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Damien Hirst, One Of “The Bad Boys” Of The Art World.

November 20, 2008

When I decided to put this post together about about Damien Hirst’s work, I was only vaguely familiar with it and not very impressed. His “creations” are not the kind of work I enjoy or appreciate: too in your face, shock inducing and self-centered. Other than that bias, I was fairly uninformed about his creative output and wanted to examine his work more closely. I don’t like to think I’m  narrow-minded not to be able explore his place and influence in the art world. And perhaps learn something.

Damien Steven Hirst was born June 7th 1965 in Bristol and grew up in Leeds. He is an English artist and the most prominent member of the group known as “Young British Artists” (or YBAs). Hirst dominated the art scene in Britain during the 1990s and is internationally renowned. During the 1990s his career was closely linked with the collector Charles Saatchi, but increasing frictions came to a head in 2003 and the relationship ended. Wikipedia.

  “A Thousand Years” (detail), 1990 Steel, glass, flies, maggots, MDF, insect-o-cutor, cow’s head, sugar, water 84″ x 168″ x 84″ Gagosian Gallery.

Damien Hirst

 Artchive at “A Thousand Years,” 1990

Richard Lacayo of Time Magazine: A Thousand Years is a large glass box in which real maggots hatch into flies that appear to feed on blood (actually red sugar water) from a severed cow’s head, then are killed by an electric bug zapper — the tragic cycle of life and death played as low farce by the lowest orders.

“The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living.” 1991


The above consists of a shark preserved in formaldehyde in a vitrine. It was originally commissioned in 1991 by Charles Saatchi, who sold it in 2004, making Hirst the second most expensive living artist after Jasper Johns (he surpassed Johns in 2007). Due to deterioration of the original 14-foot tiger shark, it was replaced with a new specimen in 2006. It is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City until 2010.

It is the iconic work of British art in the 1990s, and the symbol of Britart worldwide. Wikipedia.

According to The Artchive at “Damien Hirst curated the widely acclaimed ‘Freeze’ exhibition in 1988 while still a student at Goldsmiths College. This show launched the careers of many successful young British artists, including his own. Hirst graduated from Goldsmiths in 1989, and has since become the most famous living British artist after David Hockney.

Detail of “In and Out of Love,” from Antiques And The Arts Online.

Detail of Damien Hirsts In Love Out of Love which sold for 750000 at Phillips a new record for the artist

“In 1991, Hirst presented In and Out of Love, an installation for which he filled a gallery with hundreds of live tropical butterflies, some spawned from monochrome canvases on the wall. With The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991), his infamous tiger shark in a glass tank of formaldehyde shown at the Saatchi Gallery, Damien Hirst became a media icon and household name. He has since been imitated, parodied, reproached and exalted by the media and public alike.

“I Want You Because I Can’t Have You.” (detail) 1992
MDF, melamine, wood, steel, glass, perspex cases, fish and formaldehyde solution
2 parts, each 121.9 x 243.8 x 30.5 cm

I Want You Because I Can't Have You (detail)

“Hirst’s work is an examination of the processes of life and death: the ironies, falsehoods and desires that we mobilise to negotiate our own alienation and mortality. His production can be roughly grouped into three areas: paintings, cabinet sculptures and the glass tank pieces. The paintings divide into spot and spin paintings. The former are randomly organised, colour-spotted canvases with titles that refer to pharmaceutical chemicals. The spin paintings are ‘painted’ on a spinning table, so that each individual work is created through centrifugal force. For the cabinet series Hirst displayed collections of surgical tools or hundreds of pill bottles on highly ordered shelves. The tank pieces incorporate dead and sometimes dissected animals – cows, sheep or the shark – preserved in formaldehyde, suspended in death.”

Donated to The Tate in 2007: Damien Hirst’s Mother and Child Divided.1993 Detail. (Reuters: Luke MacGregor)
Damien Hirst's Mother and Child Divided.

From Guardian Unlimited Arts: “Mother and Child, Divided. ” 1993

Damien Hirst, Mother and Child, Divided, 1993

“Damien Hirst shaped shared ideas and interests quickly and easily, his work developing during the decade [1987-1997] to reflect changes in contemporary life. Relying on the straightforward appeal of colour and form, he made important art that contained little mystery in its construction. Adopting the graphic punch of billboard imagery, his work was arresting at a distance and physically surprising close up. Hirst understood art at its most simple and at its most complex. He reduced painting to its basic elements to eliminate abstraction’s mystery. In the age of art as a commodity he made spot paintings – saucer-sized, coloured circles on a white ground – that became luxury designer goods. His art was direct but never empty. In the later spin paintings, which emphasised a renewed interest in a hands-on process of making, Hirst magnified a ‘hobby’-art technique, drawing attention to the accidental and expressive energy of the haphazard. Influenced by Jeff Koons’s basketballs floating in water, Hirst’s early work used pharmacy medicine cabinets that showed the applied beauty of Modernist design. A cabinet of individual fish suspended in formaldehyde worked like the spot paintings, as an arrangement of colour, shape and form. This work came to be seen in the popular mind as a symbol of advanced art; overcoming an initial distrust of its ease of assembly, people became fascinated by how ordinary things of the world could be placed so as to be seen as beautiful. The work democratised its meaning, operating as simply as a pop song. (The Artchive at

White Cube: “Controlled Substance Key Painting Spot 1d.” 1994 Gloss household paint on canvas. 12 x 12″ (30.5 x 30.5 cm) (1″ spot)


Hirst’s sculpture progressed with the Arcadian beauty of a solitary sheep, Away from the Flock, followed by the gothic thrill of the mechanically moving pig. 

Hirst understood the claustrophobic horror of Francis Bacon‘s art, and found surprising parallels in the modern office or the lowly art tradition of portraits of animals. His fascination with the elevation of the commonplace, the unremarkable and the everyday has found Hirst at his most inventive.”

Photo: Bloomberg, from “Lullaby Spring,”  2002 Steel cabinet containing painted pills.  

A buyer paid $22.8 million for Lullaby Spring, a steel cabinet containing painted pills, by Damien Hirst. (A buyer paid $22.8 million for the above work.)

Hirst’s paintings can be seen as a foil to his sculptural work, though they are similarly inconclusive. The ‘spot’ paintings are named after pharmaceutical stimulants and narcotics, the chemical enhancers of human emotion, and yet take the form of mechanical and unemotional Minimalist paintings. Their detachment is further emphasised by the exploitation of procedures that can be simply carried out by assistants under his instruction. Hirst’s interest in contemporary society is further reflected in collaborative pop music projects and in his designs for the Pharmacy and Quo Vadis restaurants, London. (Tate Collection.)

 White Cube: “Charity.” 2002-2003 Acrylic paint on bronze. Height: 270 x base diam: 96 in. (Height: 685.8 x base diam: 243.8 cm) Photo: Mike Parsons

The impulses driving Damien Hirst’s work stem from dilemmas inherent in human life: ‘I am aware of mental contradictions in everything, like: I am going to die and I want to live for ever. I can’t escape the fact and I can’t let go of the desire’. The materials he uses often shock, but he says he ‘uses shock almost as a formal element . not so much to thrust his work in the public eye . but rather to make aspects of life and death visible’. (Tate Britain.)

  “Beautiful Bleeding Wound Over the Materialism of Money Painting.” 2005 

Household gloss paint and credit card on canvas. 60″ x 84″ (152.4 x 213.4 cm) Gagosian Gallery.

From boingboing: “For the Love of God,” which was cast from an 18th-century skull he bought in London, was influenced by Mexican skulls encrusted in turquoise. “I remember thinking it would be great to do a diamond one – but just prohibitively expensive,” he recalls. “Then I started to think – maybe that’s why it is a good thing to do. Death is such a heavy subject, it would be good to make something that laughed in the face of it.”


Hirst, who financed the piece himself, watched for months as the price of international diamonds rose while the Bond Street gem dealer Bentley & Skinner tried to corner the market for the artist’s benefit. Given the ongoing controversy over blood diamonds from Africa, “For the Love of God” now has the potential to be about death in a more literal way. 

“That’s when you stop laughing,” Hirst says. “You might have created something that people might die because of. I guess I felt like Oppenheimer or something. What have I done? Because it’s going to need high security all its life.”

             Hirst with skull

From site: By David Cohen, Evening Standard. 

But when it comes to the (White Cube) exhibition’s centrepiece – the £50 million diamondencrusted skull, For the Love of God – Thompson is unequivocal. “Fifty million pounds might seem like a ridiculous amount of money for diamonds arranged on a platinum skull, but it’s all about the uniqueness of the idea and the fact that there will always be only one piece like it. Mark my words, it will be sold.”

According to White Cube: Hirst lives and works in London and Devon. He has participated in numerous group exhibitions including Into Me/Out of Me, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York (2006), In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, Tate Britain, the 50th Venice Biennale (2003) and Century CityTate Modern (2001). Solo exhibitions include Astrup Fearnley Museet fur Moderne Kunst, Oslo (2005), Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2005) and Archaeological Museum, Naples (2004). He received the DAAD fellowship in Berlin in 1994 and theTurner Prize in 1995.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 13, 2009 2:48 pm


    I love your blog, I am a massive fan of contemporary art!

    Please follow me



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