Contemporary English artist Damien Hirst (born June 7, 1965) is the most prominent of the group known as the Young British Artists (YBA).
Hirst first attended Leeds College of Art and Design and then London University's Goldsmiths College. While a student there he worked in a mortuary, which had a lasting impact on his artwork. Immortalizing dead animals in formaldehyde would later bring him much public attention.
While a second-year student at Goldsmiths, Hirst curated the “Freeze” exhibition in 1988 that showcased his own work and that of fellow students. The adman and art collector Charles Saatchi visited the show and subsequently offered to support Hirst’s work. Saatchi became a benefactor of many of the YBA.
In 1991, Hirst created his defining work “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living.” The piece comprised a 4-meter-long tiger shark preserved in a vitrine of formaldehyde. The work proved a sensation. Saatchi bought it for £50,000.
Hirst dominated the art scene in Britain throughout the 1990s. He participated in the 1993 Venice Biennale with “Mother and Child Divided,” a cow and a calf cut into sections and presented in four separate vitrines. In 1995, he won the Turner Prize for “Third Installation of Pharmacy.”
His close professional relationship with Saatchi ended acrimoniously in 2003. However, when Saatchi sold the preserved shark in 2004 for $12 million, it made Hirst the second most expensive living artist after Jasper Johns. In 2007, “Lullaby Spring” sold for £9.65 million at Sotheby's London, taking Hirst past Johns' record.
Besides installations dealing with death, Hirst is known for his spot paintings, mostly made by assistants who paint rows of uniform but variously colored circles. Butterflies arranged in paint are another Hirst trope.
In 2008, Hirst bypassed gallery representation to auction his work directly to the public at Sotheby’s London. Despite misgivings that the artist might be damaging his market, "Beautiful Inside My Head Forever" raised $198 million.
Recently, Hirst has returned to painting. London's Wallace Collection showed “Blue Paintings” in 2009, leaving critics divided. "People are not shocked by animals in formaldehyde anymore, but they are shocked that you are picking up a brush and a canvas and going backwards," Hirst told the BBC.
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