Damien Hirst, the famed British painter, sculptor and assemblage artist, is internationally known for creating provocative artworks that shock and disturb, and provoke conversations surrounding mortality and what it means to be human. Rising to fame as a figurehead of the YBAs in the 1990’s and excelling on the international art scene, what is there to know about the controversial artist? Here are some fascinating facts about Hirst.
1. Born in Bristol in 1965 and raised in Leeds, Damien Hirst was no stranger to breaking the rules. Arrested twice for shoplifting and once breaking into his school to steal art supplies, Hirst was not afraid of authority. His mother actively disapproved of his behaviour, cutting up his punk-aesthetic clothes and moulding his vinyl records into fruit bowls and plant pots. Despite his art teacher negotiating with the rest of the faculty to keep him enrolled, Hirst went on to achieve an ‘E’ grade in art class, famously going on to proclaim that "it's amazing what you can do with an 'E' in A-Level art, a twisted imagination and a chainsaw."
2. Whilst working as a student, Hirst took a job in a mortuary. This placement was highly influential on his later work, much of which touches upon death, decay and remains.
Fruitful and Forever by Damien Hirst
3. Moving to London in the 1980’s, Hirst enrolled in Goldsmiths College in 1986, where his professional artistic career would flourish. During his time there he curated the student art show Freeze, an exhibition showcasing the work of a variety of emerging artists that would form the YBAs, also known as the Young British Artists group. This is also where Hirst first met the art dealer and tastemaker Charles Saatchi.
4. The business relationship between Saatchi and Hirst lasted for around a decade, with the art dealer putting up the £50,000 needed to create Hirst’s famous tiger shark submerged in formaldehyde, also known as The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. Hirst acquired the shark from an Australian hunter, and went on to sell the artwork for around £10 million.
5. Not everyone was a fan of Hirst’s formaldehyde-based animal works. In 1994 during Hirst's Away From The Flock exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in London, an art student named Mark Bridger poured black ink into one of Hirst's formaldehyde tanks and renamed it Black Sheep. The student was consequently sued, charged and given two years probation for the act of vandalism. However, the tables were turned when Hirst reproduced the work of Black Sheep in one of his books and Bridger went on to sue the artist for copyright infringement.
6. Despite its controversies, Hirst's work is widely praised within the art world. In 1995, Hirst was awarded Tate Britain’s Turner Prize for his formaldehyde piece Mother and Child Divided, consisting of a cow and her calf each dissected into two and contained in four glass boxes.
7. Hirst doesn’t just shake up the art scene: he makes records too. His monumental Sotheby’s sale in 2008, Beautiful Inside my Head Forever, saw all of his pieces sell in one auction for £111 million. At the time, this was ten times higher than any previous sale by a singular artist at Sotheby’s. To top it all off, Hirst shunned protocol and sold his works directly, rather than through a gallery.
8. Hirst is no stranger to a legal battle. The artist was sued for breach of copyright by a children’s toy company after his 20ft anatomical sculpture bore a striking resemblance to their own £14.99 toy. This was settled out of court, and Hirst admitted that he took great inspiration from one of his son’s toys.
9. Not one to shy away from a statement, Hirst’s show in Venice in 2017, named Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable was a visual treat that consisted of a wide variety of 190 ‘treasures’ that were ‘discovered’ from a 2,000 year-old fictional shipwreck. Hirst submerged the works underwater and then created a film documenting divers recovering the treasures from the wreckage. The main attraction, a 20 metre-high bronze figure, can now be found in a casino in Las Vegas.
10. Perhaps one of Hirst’s most famous artworks, For The Love of God was a platinum recreation of a human skull with human teeth, covered in 8,601 diamonds and weighing over 1,000 carats. The value of the precious stones amounted to £15 million pounds.
If you’re intrigued by Damien Hirst and his work, make sure to take a look at our collection of artworks by the artist.