Since the late 1980’s, Damien Hirst has used a varied practice of installation, sculpture, painting and drawing to explore the complex relationship between art, life and death. Explaining: “Art’s about life and it can’t really be about anything else … there isn’t anything else,” Hirst’s work investigates and challenges contemporary belief systems, and dissects the tensions and uncertainties at the heart of human experience.
Hirst was born in 1965 in Bristol and grew up in Leeds. In 1984 he moved to London, where he worked in construction before studying for a BA in Fine Art at Goldsmiths college from 1986 to 1989. He was awarded the Turner Prize in 1995. Hirst developed his interest in exploring the “unacceptable idea” of death as a teenager in Leeds. From the age of sixteen, he made regular visits to the anatomy department of Leeds Medical School in order to make life drawings. The experiences served to establish the difficulties he perceived in reconciling the idea of death in life. Of the prominence of death in his work he has explained: “You can frighten people with death or an idea of their own mortality, or it can actually give them vigour.”
’ (1991), The Acquired Inability to Escape’, arguably his most famous series. Through preserving creatures in minimalist steel and glass tanks filled with formaldehyde solution, he intended to create a “zoo of dead animals”. In 1992, the shark piece, ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’ (1991) was unveiled at the Saatchi Gallery’s ‘Young British Artists I’ exhibition. The shark, described by the artist as a “thing to describe a feeling”, remains one of the most iconic symbols of modern British art and popular culture in the 90’s. The series typifies Hirst’s interest in display mechanisms. The glass boxes he employs both in ‘Natural History’ works and in vitrines, such as ‘Natural HistoryIn 1991 Hirst began work on ‘act to define the artwork’s space, whilst simultaneously commenting on the “fragility of existence”.
Stating: “I am absolutely not interested in tying things down”, Hirst has continued over the last decade to explore the “big issues” of “death, life, religion, beauty, science.” In 2007, he unveiled the spectacular, ‘For the Love of God’ (2007): a platinum cast of a skull set with 8,601 flawless pavé-set diamonds, at the White Cube exhibition ‘Beyond Belief’. The following year, he took the unprecedented step of bypassing gallery involvement in selling 244 new works at Sotheby’s auction house in London. Describing the sale as a means of democratizing the art market, the ‘Beautiful Inside My Head Forever’ auction followed Hirst’s Sotheby’s event in 2004, in which the entire contents of the artist’s restaurant venture, Pharmacy, were sold.
Hirst lives and works in London, Gloucestershire and Devon.