Damien Hirst (b.1965)

Biography

Born in 1965 in Bristol, Hirst grew up in Leeds and subsequently went to Goldsmith's College in London. Between 1988 and 1990 he curated a series of exhibitions of work by his contemporaries including the highly acclaimed group shows Freeze, Modern Medicine and Gambler.

In his own work Hirst has continually challenged the boundaries between art, science, the media and popular culture. A 12-foot tiger shark, a cow and her calf sawn in two, pharmaceutical bottles, house paint flung onto spinning canvases, spot paintings, cigarette butts, medicine cabinets, office furniture, medical instruments, butterflies and tropical fish are just some of the means Hirst employs to communicate his unflinching view of the ambiguity at the heart of human experience. Hirst has said 'I am going to die and I want to live forever. I can't escape the fact, and I can't let go of the desire.'

Whilst best known for the 'Natural History' works that present animals suspended in formaldehyde, Hirst has also presented works that attest to the transience of biological existence. An early work 'In and Out of Love' (1991) focuses on a butterfly's brief life-span from hatching to decay, whilst 'A Thousand Years' (1990) consists of a rotting cow's head, sugar solution, fly eggs and a fly zapper - a veritable memento mori in the 'Vanitas' tradition. In many of Hirst's works the glass vitrine functions as both window and barrier, seducing the viewer into the work visually whilst providing a minimalist geometry to rigorously frame, contain and objectify the subject, thus avoiding sentimental expressionism. It is a way of getting the viewer to think about things they may not wish to think about. Hirst makes iconoclastic works recasting the fundamental questions concerning the meaning of life, the existence of god and death as the final limit, in paradoxically the most factual and unorthodox way.

In many of the sculptures of the 1990s such as 'The Acquired Inability to Escape' (1991) and 'The Asthmatic Escaped' (1992) a human presence was implied through the inclusion of 'relic' like objects in the works; clothes, cigarettes, ashtrays, tables, chairs, a Ventolin inhaler. That implied presence has become explicit in works such as 'Ways of Seeing' (2000), a vitrine sculpture that presents the figure of a laboratory technician seated at a desk heightening the sense of being trapped and of being reduced to a single function: an eye looking through a microscope. The more celebratory work 'Hymn' (2000), a polychrome bronze sculpture, reveals the anatomical musculature and internal organs of the human body on a monumental scale.

Hirst has had exhibitions in galleries and museums throughout the world. He received the DAAD fellowship in Berlin in 1994 and the Turner Prize in 1995.