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Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst (born 1965 in Bristol) is a British artist and probably the most famous of the group that has been dubbed "Young British Artists" (or YBAs). He is best known for his Natural History series in which dead animals (such as a shark, a sheep or a cow) are preserved in formaldehyde.

He studied fine arts at Goldsmith's College, University of London from 1986 to 1989. In 1988 he gained attention for curating the student exhibition, Freeze, in a warehouse in East London. Hirst first gained general public notoriety in 1990 when one of his work was featured as a prank in a British tabloid newspaper. His first solo exhibition, In and Out of Love, was held at the Woodstock Street Gallery in London in 1991. His autobiography, I Want To Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now, was published in 1998. Apart from Freeze Hirst also curated the exhibitions 'Modern Medecine' at Building One in 1990 and 'Some Went Mad, Some Ran Away' at the Serpentine Gallery in 1993.

His works include:

  • The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991), composed of a tiger shark in a glass tank of formaldehyde. This piece was nominated for a Turner Prize.
  • Pharmacy (1992)
  • Amonium Biborate (1993)
  • Away from the Flock (1994), composed of a sheep in a glass tank of formaldehyde.
  • Mother and Child Divided, composed of a cow and a calf sliced in half in a glass tank of formaldehyde.
  • Two Fucking and Two Watching, which includes a rotting cow and bull. This work was banned from exhibition in New York by public health officials.
  • God, composed of a cabinet containing pharmaceutical products

In 1993 the piece 'Away from the flock' was vandalised by a disgruntled artist who poured black ink into the work.

Hirst is a friend of Alex James of the band Blur for whom he directed the video Country House. In 1998 with James and the actor Keith Allen Hirst formed the band Fat Les a one-hit-wonder with their football themed song Vindaloo.

Hirst also painted a simple colour pattern for the Beagle 2 probe. This pattern was to be used to calibrate the probe's cameras after it had landed on Mars.

In 2003 Hirst's giant statue 'Charity' was sold for a reported 1m, the first time an individual work by a living British artist had reched this price.

More recently, Hirst is venturing into the world of commerce by drawing up plans to open his own sea-food restaurant in the seaside town of Ilfracombe in the UK. Hirst's previous restaurant, Pharmacy, located in Notting Hill, London, closed in September 2003.

In 2003 Hirst had a public rift with the collector Charles Saatchi over the display of his works as part of a fee paying exhibition. Hirst brought back a number of works from Saatchi for a total fee reported to exceed 8m. Hirst had sold these pieces to Saatchi in the early 1990s for a few hundreds of pounds.

On 24 May, 2004, a fire in a storage warehouse destroyed many works from the Saatchi collection, including, it is believed, some of Hirst's.

Critical responses to Hirst's influence remain disputed. His output in a short period of five years has produced some of the icons of contemporary art, the formaldehyde vitirine icon has been much imitated and parodied in film and advertising. However Hirst himself admits that he has had serious drug and alchohol problems for much of the last ten years and much of the work done since 1995 has been argued to be repetitive and reductive. Hirst did manage to fashion an image of the celebrity artist uncommon in Britain and leading the way for artists such as Tracey Emin. It is argued though this focus on celebrity has contributed to the trivialisation of contemporary culture. His association with the collector Charles Saatchi and the dealer Jay Jopling has confirmed them with a central position position of influence in the international contemporary art scene but as Hirst's rift with Saatchi shows this is not entirely healthy. With Freeze his other projects Hirst certainly had a key role in launching the 'Cool Britannia' brand and for a time giving the visual arts a heightened profile in British public life.

Last updated: 11-07-2004 05:21:36