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Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst Biography

born Bristol (UK) 1965

Damien Hirst (born 7th June 1965 in Bristol) is a British artist and probably the most famous of the group that has been dubbed "Young British Artists" (or YBA's). 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.

Hirst has two sons, born in 1995 and in 2000; since the birth of his older son, Connor, he has spent most of his time at a farm in Devon.

Hirst grew up in Leeds, studying at first at the College of Art there, although the first time he applied he was refused a place. He was to subsequently study fine arts at Goldsmith's College, University of London from 1986 to 1989 although again Goldsmiths like the leeds College of Art refused Hirst a place the first time he interviewed. While a student Hirst had a placement at a mortuary, an experience that influenced his later themes and materials. In 1988 he gained attention for curating the student exhibition, Freeze, in a derelict building in South East London. Freeze brought him to the attention of a Charles Saatchi. After graduating Hirst was included in New Contemporaries and in a group show at Kettles Yard Gallery in Cambridge. Seeking a gallery dealer Hirst first approached Karsten Schubert but was famously turned down. He curated the exhibition "Modern Medicine" at Building One in 1990 in collaboration with his friend Carl Friedman. Hirst first gained general public notoriety that same year when one of his works 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. Also in 1991 he had a solo exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. By this time the major elements of his work had been established with the use of large vitrines, dead animals and pharmacological support. At this point Hirst met the up and coming art dealer Jay Jopling. At the end of 1991 Hirst was showcased in an exhibition at Saatchi's Gallery in North London including the work "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living". The same exhibition included the work "10,000 Years". Hirst's first major international presentation was in the 1993 Venice Biennale with the work "Mother and Child Divided".

Hirst was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1992 but lost to Grenville Davey. He won in 1995.

Hirst curated the "Some Went Mad, Some Ran Away" exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in 1994.

In May 1994 the piece "Away from the Flock" was vandalised while on exhibit in London by a disgruntled artist who poured black ink into the work. The sculpture was restored at a cost of €1000.

In 1996 Hirst wrote and directed the short film "Hanging Around" starring Eddie Izzard.

His critically-acclaimed autobiography/art book, I Want To Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now, was published in 1998.

Hirst is a friend of Alex James of the band Blur, for whom he directed the video for the song 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 2000 Hirst paid an undisclosed sum to charity in an out-of-court settlement after being accused that "Hymn" (1996) plagiarised Hull-based toy manufacturer Humbrol's "Anatomy Man", designed by Norman Emms.

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 reached this price.

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 bought 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.

In late 2004 Hirst designed a cover for the "Band Aid 20" charity single featuring the Grim Reaper with an African child perched on his knee. Not to the liking of the record executives, it was replaced by reindeer in the snow standing next to a child.

In December 2004 the Saatchi Collection confirmed a rumour that it had sold The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living to an American collector, for $12 million (€6.5 million), in a deal negotiated by Hirst's New York agent Larry Gagosian. It is understood that the collector, believed to be Steve Cohen - a Greenwich hedge fund manager, will donate the work to MoMA New York.

Select Timeline

Select Exhibitions

  • 1992 - Pharmacy Cohen Gallery New York, NY
  • 1993 - Visual Candy Regen Projects Los Angeles, CA
  • 1993 - Damien Hirst Galerie Jablonka Cologne, Germany
  • 1994 - Pharmacy Museum Dallas, TX
  • 1995 - Pharmacy Kukje Gallery Seoul, South Korea
  • 1996 - No Sense of Absolute Corruption Gagosian Gallery New York, NY
  • 1997 - Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art Oslo, Norway
  • 1997 - Helsinki City Art Museum Helsinki
  • 1997 - The Beautiful Afterlife Bruno Bischofberger Zurich, Germany
  • 1998 - Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, IL
  • 2000 - Focus on Damien Hirst Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art Oslo
  • 2000 - Sadler's Wells London, UK
  • 2000 - Gagosian Gallery New York, NY
  • 2000 - Saatchi Gallery London, UK
  • 2000 - White Cube London, UK
  • 2000 - Pharmacy Tate Gallery London, UK-solo
  • 2003 - Damien Hirst, La Caja Negra Madrid, Spain
  • 2003 - Damien Hirst - Romance in the Age of Uncertainty White Cube London, UK
  • 2003 - Damien Hirst- Saatchi Gallery London, UK
  • 2004 - In-a-Gadda-da-Vida at Tate Britain Collaboration with Sarah Lucas and Angus Fairhurst
  • 2004 - Survey of Key Works from 1989-2004; Museo Nazionale Archaeologico, Naples, Italy

Select Artwork

  • In and Out of Love (1991), an installation of potted plants, caterpillars and monochrome canvases painted with sugar solution and glue. There were also (in a separate room) tables with ashtrays containing used cigarette butts. Eventually, the caterpillars metamorphose into butterflies, and the insects become fixed to the surfaces of the canvases. In its now fixed form, the work is held by the Yale Center for British Art and is on regular exhibit there.
  • The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991), a tiger shark in a glass tank of formaldehyde. This piece was one of the works in his Turner Prize nomination show.
  • Pharmacy(1992), a life-size recreation of a chemist's shop.
  • A Thousand Years (1991), composed of a vitrine with a glass division. In one half is the severed head of a cow on the floor; in the other is an insect electrocutor. Maggots introduced into the vitrine feed off the cow and then develop into flies that are killed by the electrocutor.
  • Amonium Biborate (1993)
  • Away from the Flock (1994), composed of a dead sheep in a glass tank of formaldehyde.
  • Arachidic Acid (1994) an early example of Hirst's spot paintings.
  • Hymn (1996), a gigantic head and upper body, based on an anatomical model of the human body.
  • 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, 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.
  • The Stations of the Cross (2004), a series of twelve photographs depicting the final moments of Jesus Christ, made in collaboration with the photographer David Bailey.
  • The Virgin Mother, a massive sculpture depicting a pregnant female human, with layers removed from one side to expose the fetus, muscle and tissue layers, and skull underneath. This work was purchased by real estate magnate Aby Rosen for display on the plaza of one of his properties, the Lever House, in New York City.
  • The Wrath of God (2005), a new version of a shark in formaldehyde.
  • "The Inescapable Truth", (2005). Glass, steel, dove, human skull and formaldehyde solution.
  • "The Sacred Heart of Jesus", (2005). Perspex, bull's heart, silver, assorted needles, scalpels, and formaldehyde solution.
  • "Faithless", (2005). Butterflies and household gloss on canvas
  • "The Hat Makes de Man", (2005). Painted bronze that simulates wood and hats.
  • "The Death of God", (2006). Household gloss on canvas, human skull, knife, coin and sea shells. This painting, which is a part of a group of others which were made in Mexico, are believed to be "the beginning of Hirst's Mexican period".
  • Sceptic
  • Duomo, 2007
  • Santiago de Compostela, 2007
  • Friday Night in the Royal Station Hotel - Conception, 2006
  • Superstition, 2007
  • Faithless, 2006
  • Mexico, 2005
  • The Last Supper (Sandwich), 1999
  • Or Love - The Birthday Card Suite
  • Two green Jasper Morrison Pharmacy chairs, 1965
  • Methamphetamine, 2004
  • Cinchonidine, 2004
  • Cineole, 2004
  • Bromphenol Blue, 2005
  • In a Spin, the Action of the World on Things, 2002
  • Last Supper (Liver, bacon and Onions), 1999
  • Beautiful Frolicking in Luxurious Velvet and Gold Painting, 2005Painting by Numbers I, 2001


  • "A lot of people thought I wasn't doing anything because I was spending a lot of time socialising and going out, but I've always managed to get work actually done."
  • "And I think, you know, I like it, so I can't understand it, I think if you're gonna have this stuff going in your ears, you might as well have some stuff going in your eyes."
  • "But I always liked the fact that you get these totally unacceptable images, but they're taken by a really expensive photographer, with great light, and in terms of the quality of the photograph it's a great photograph, but in terms of imagery it's unacceptable, and I like that contradiction."
  • "Because it's visual art, a lot of it comes from childhood experience but then a lot comes from the visual language - in advertising and stuff like that - which is around us."
  • "But the answer to how to live is to stop thinking about it. And just to live. But you're doing that anyway. However you intellectualise it, you still just live."
  • "Commercials are so contemporary and up to date that when you're involved in that visual world, you can't really go backwards."
  • "I don't really buy any, but I have a lot of friends who do, so I go out sober and say I'm not gonna take any drugs and then I end up drunk and do it. And then wake up the next day and say I'm never doing that again."
  • "I did a butterfly show in Berlin, and we had a guy who's an expert on butterflies; who bred them all and who looks after them all in the space."
  • "I think it's just, I really enjoy art, and I just hope that when people come and see the exhibition, I want them to be just grabbed and thrown around a bit by visual things."
  • "I wanted a shark that's big enough to eat you, and in a large enough amount of liquid so that you could imagine you were in there with it."
  • "It'd be nice to make lots of money but it's quite difficult, because every time I make lots of money I make a bigger piece that costs lots of money."
  • "Most people live in the city and go to the country at the weekend, and that's posh and aristocratic, but actually to live in the country and come to London when you can't take it any more is different."
  • "To me it's like, this is the kind of world I live in and these are all the people who are artists who are doing what I'm doing, but in their own way."
  • "Whenever I go to another city to do an art exhibition, the only way to get through it is to get drunk, because it's so similar to the last one."
  • "Yeah, maybe a morbid sense of humour, I wouldn't say it was sick, but maybe other people would. I like bad jokes."


  • Damien Hirst - by Gordon Burn, Universe Publishing (January 5, 2002)
  • I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now - by Damien Hirst, Booth-Clibborn; Compact edition (March 29, 2006)
  • Damien Hirst: Pictures from the Saatchi Gallery: 28 Tablets - by Jonathan Barnbrook, Booth-Clibborn (April 1, 2001)

Quick Facts

  • Hirst had a short-lived partnership with chef Marco Pierre White in the restaurant Quo Vadis.
  • Hirst's best known restaurant involvement was Pharmacy, located in Notting Hill, London, which closed in September 2003Hirst is also known to volunteer repair work on his projects after a client has made a purchase. For example, this service was offered in the case of the suspended shark purchased by Steven A. Cohen
  • Hirst has admitted serious drug and alcohol problems during a ten year period from the early 1990s:Death is a central theme in his work. He is Hirst is best known for his Natural History series, in which dead animals (such as a shark, a sheep or a cow) are preserved, sometimes cut-up, in formaldehyde
  • Damien Hirst is an English artist and the most prominent of the group that has been dubbed "Young British Artists"


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