Damien Hirst art is synonymous with the Young British Artist movement, and renowned for its controversial take on death, science and beauty.
He is one of the greatest provocateurs in recent art history, polarizing popular opinions. Catching the attention of the public and critics from the very outset of his career, Hirst positioned himself at the centre of the art world, and his work commands some of the highest prices on the market. As a result, he is one of the wealthiest artists living today.
As a leading artist of his generation, Hirst shows no signs of slowing down now. In this decade alone, solo exhibitions have been held in Venice, Washington, Oslo, Doha, London, Thessaloniki, Copenhagen, Florence and Monte Carlo. His works are also held in the collections of the Tate Gallery in London, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., and the Rubell Family Collection in Miami.
“It’s amazing what you can do with an E in A-Level art, a twisted imagination and a chainsaw” – Hirst in his Turner Prize acceptance speech.
The early years
Damien Hirst was born in 1965 in Bristol, raised in Leeds, and later pursued a B.A. in Fine Art at Goldsmiths, University of London. There, he quickly became a prominent member of the student community, organising various student events.
During his summer breaks, he worked at a mortuary, an experience that strongly influenced the themes and materials he would later call on. It also provided him with the technical knowledge and experience that would later help him to create his biological sculptures.
Coming of age in the 1980s, Hirst took a keen interest in the punk scene that was taking hold within British culture, rejecting traditional values and embracing confrontational, gritty subject matter.
The Young British Artist movement
Damien Hirst first came to public attention in 1988 when he conceived and curated ‘Freeze’ during his second year at Goldsmiths. The exhibition was held in a disused warehouse, and showed work by Hirst and fellow students. It would mark a turning point in his career.
Michael Craig-Martin, Hirst’s professor, persuaded a number of influential people in the British art scene to attend the show, including Charles Saatchi, advertising mogul and owner of a London gallery.
‘Freeze’ and Hirst’s subsequent warehouse shows inspired Saatchi to sell off much of his contemporary American art collection and invest in Hirst and the new generation of young British artists, which included the likes of Liam Gillick, Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas. Saatchi’s term for the artistic group would stick to Hirst and his peers, who are still referred to as “the Young British Artists” or YBAs.
The YBA movement rose to prominence in the early 1990s, and was known for shocking and unconventional materials and concepts that challenged the prevailing definition of art. The movement’s success has been cited as a contributing factor for the establishment of Tate Modern in 2000, which has become the most-attended modern art museum in the world.
Hirst later received the DAAD fellowship in Berlin in 1994 and the Turner Prize in 1995.
Damien Hirst’s art is clearly influenced by historical and contemporary sources, and constantly challenges the boundaries between art, science and religion.
In using biological materials, he joins other contemporary artists of the late twentieth century. Where Hirst differs from his historical and contemporary predecessors is in his display of entire corpses as visual spectacles.
Bloody bodies (martyrs and the death of Christ) and mothers and children (the Madonna and Child) are iconic themes in Western religious painting. Hirst, who was raised Catholic, cites these themes as a significant artistic influence. In turn, his focus on death relates to memento mori (reminders of mortality) images in European still life.
Science is also one of Hirst’s most enduring themes, including our unquestioning faith in the power of pharmaceuticals. This theme is examined in the installations ‘Pharmacy’, ‘Medicine Cabinets’ and ‘Instrument Cabinets’ which display collections of surgical implements within steel and glass cases.
Somewhat similarly, ‘Entomology Cabinets’ places butterflies in neat rows within stainless steel frames. The overall effect is scientific ordering or industrial production, a reference to the Victorian era and a visual display that reflected man’s control over nature.
“There [are] four important things in life: religion, love, art and science. At their best, they’re all just tools to help you find a path through the darkness. None of them really work that well, but they help. Of them all, science seems to be the one right now. Like religion, it provides the glimmer of hope that maybe it will be all right in the end…”
His best known works
Damien Hirst’s art is wide-ranging, including installation, sculpture, painting and drawing. In his relentlessly enterprising, unapologetically commercial approach to art, Hirst’s career is closely aligned with that of Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons, the latter of whom has cited him as an influence. Cindy Sherman, Sarah Lucas, and Tracey Emin have also mentioned Hirst’s impact on their work.
The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991), a large vitrine containing an Australian tiger shark suspended in formaldehyde, was financed by Saatchi and helped to launch Hirst’s career.
Other groundbreaking works include Mother and Child Divided (1993) a four-part sculpture of a bisected cow and calf Hirst’s installation of a rotting bull and cow was banned from New York by public health officials who feared “vomiting among the visitors.”
In regards to his most valued pieces, For the Love of God (2007) was a human skull made of platinum and studded with 8,601 diamonds valued at around $30 million. Though there is no official record of its sale, Hirst’s initial asking price for this piece was $100 million.
Hirst went on to show one of his most controversial installations in 2012. In and Out of Love consisted of two white windowless rooms in which over 9,000 butterflies flitted around and died.
Why buy Damien Hirst art?
Damien Hirst art has proved to be a savvy investment asset.
Enticed by his early “animal” installations, Charles Saatchi bought The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1992) for £50,000, a high figure for an emerging artist to command. However, Saatchi sold the artwork around a decade later for £6.5 million. Safe to say, Damien Hirst art climbed rapidly in value as his name became known.
In September 2008, Hirst made an unprecedented move by selling a complete show, Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, at Sotheby’s by auction, bypassing his long-standing galleries. Selling 218 items in total, Hirst raised $198 million, more than tenfold the previous record for a one-artist auction.
If you are looking to invest in Damien Hirst art, please pay us a visit at Maddox Gallery. We’re honoured to hold works by the established artist, and our Sotheby’s-trained art consultants are on hand to tell you more about the pieces we carry.