The late 1980s saw a change in the landscape of British Art. The rise of the Young British Artist group and their confrontational, rule-breaking art transformed what it means to be a British artist. From Tracey Emin to Damien Hirst, this generation of artists fostered unique creativity that made waves in the art scene of the 1990s. We take a look at the lasting impact of the YBAs and artists like David Shrigley that are building upon the foundations of this era of artists.
The formation of this transformative generation of art can be traced back to Goldsmiths College of Art. This London university played a key role in the development of the YBA movement, due to its unconventional teaching methods. Refusing to separate different types of media into separate courses, instead, students were encouraged to foster creativity in all areas of art. A series of exhibitions held by students in abandoned factories and warehouses were kickstarted in 1988, the most famous of which was the Hirst-led Freeze. This exhibition was the birthplace of many great British artists’ careers.
The art created at the turn of the century is marked by a complete openness towards materials, form and space. From the preserved dead animals in formaldehyde by Damien Hirst to Tracey Emin’s bed, the gallery space was no longer just for paintings, but full of installations, film and photography. Capitalising on shock tactics, the YBAs championed a new style of art that was culturally and personally relevant yet still relatable. Tracey Emin in particular created self-referential artworks that were honest and vulnerable, using her personal stories to create a connection between artist and viewer.
A factor that separated this group of artists from any other movement was their ability to capitalise on the power of the media. The YBAs recognised the benefits of press exposure from news outlets, using their entrepreneurial attitude and marketing techniques to build a recognisable brand. Whilst in the 1980s the internet was in its infancy, in the 21st century the power of online platforms is not to be underestimated. Contemporary artists such as Grayson Perry and David Shrigley use social media platforms to promote their artworks, playing on their relatability and charismatic charm. These artists have flourished in this new and unruly style of art.
At Art Republic we celebrate the work of British artists that seek to break down barriers, creating art that is shocking, confrontational and relatable. Just like how Tracey Emin’s artwork is a reflection of her life, we reflect on this period of artists with great admiration.
EVEN SAYING NOTHING IS A LIE (FROM A JOURNEY TO DEATH) by Tracey Emin
Tracey Emin is a multimedia artist best known for her personal and powerful artworks. Rising to fame as the ‘controversial’ member of the YBA group, Emin creates artwork that is emotionally raw, honest and confrontational. She straddles the line between intimacy and relatability; viewers of her work can’t help but be confronted by their past when in the presence of Emin’s work. Packing an emotional punch, Emin uses her platform to draw attention to the female voice and the power of femininity. Working in a variety of mediums, Emin has solidified her place in contemporary art history.
POLITENESS (THE VIRTUES, H9-4) by Damien Hirst
Damien Hirst is a contemporary British artist who has forged a name for himself in the history books. Tackling broad subjects such as the relationships between art, science and life, Hirst is unafraid to dive head-first into deep and meaningful themes. Placing particular importance on the inevitability of death, Hirst’s curiosity about the human experience shines through in his artworks. Hirst’s work spans multiple mediums, from detailed drawings and colourful paintings to thought-provoking sculptures and eerie installations.
UNPRINTED 3, 2005 by Angus Fairhurst
Angus Fairhurst was an original member of the YBA group, co-organizing their first Freeze exhibition that kickstarted their journeys to fame. Best known for his visually distorted compositions and humorous sculptures, Fairhurst worked in a variety of mediums. Fairhurst was inspired by images from popular culture, particularly magazines, which can be seen in his bold colour choices, graphic compositions and subject matter. Fairhurst was celebrated by audiences and artists alike for his artwork, with the former Director of the Tate Sir Nicholas Serota claiming that he “made some of the most engaging, witty and perceptive works of his generation”.
HOUSE OF LOVE SHRINE, 2017 by Grayson Perry
Grayson Perry is a celebrated artist that creates artworks that are imbued with a dramatic sense of narrative. From elaborate tapestries to ceramics to entire houses, Perry tackles universally relatable subjects. Much of his work is autobiographical, drawing from his troubled childhood, but Perry also discusses themes such as identity, gender, religion and sexuality in his art. A dedicated chronicler of life in modern society, Perry creates art that is at once nostalgic and witty, sentimental and confronting, fearful and angry.
UNTITLED (FAST TRAIN TO SHITSVILLE) by David Shrigley
Best known for his eccentric wit and humorous typography artworks, British artist David Shrigley has made a name for himself on the international stage. Using his acerbic sense of humour, Shrigley creates addictively-funny artworks that are reminiscent of doodles in diaries and school books. The artist taps into the silly hidden thoughts that we all have but never share, embracing absurdity and ridiculousness. We love how Shrigley makes his inner thoughts public, taking typography art to new heights and breaking down barriers between high and low art.
To discover our Rare and Hard to Find collection of artworks, including work from the artists above, click here.