Damien Hirst was born in Bristol, England in 1965. While still a student at Goldsmith’s College in 1988, he curated the now renowned student exhibition, Freeze, held in east London. In this exhibition, Hirst brought together a group of young artists who would come to define cutting-edge contemporary art in the 1990s. In 1991, he had his first solo exhibition at the Woodstock Street Gallery, entitled In and Out of Love, in which he filled the gallery with hundreds of live tropical butterflies, some of which were hatched from the monochrome canvases that hung the walls. In 1992, he was part of the ground breaking Young British Artists exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery. In this show, he exhibited his now famous Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, a tiger shark in a glass tank of formaldehyde. That same year he was nominated for the prestigious Tate Gallery Turner Prize, and later won that coveted award in 1995.
Hirst’s best known works are his paintings, medicine cabinet sculptures, and glass tank installations. For the most part, his paintings have taken on two styles. One is an arrangement of color spots with titles that refer to pharmaceutical chemicals, known as Spot paintings.
The second, his Spin paintings, are created by centrifugal force, when Hirst places his canvases on a spinner, and pours the paint as they spin.
In the medicine cabinet pieces Hirst redefines sculpture with his arrangements of various drugs, surgical tools, and medical supplies. His tank pieces, which contain dead animals, that are preserved in formaldehyde, are another kind of sculpture and directly address the inevitable mortality of all living beings. All of Hirst’s works contain his ironic wit, and question art’s role in contemporary culture.
Hirst created the world’s most expensive work of art. According to Hirst this ‘was a lot less stressful than putting a bloody great shark in a tank of formaldehyde’. Nevertheless, even by his ambitious standards, the diamond-encrusted skull, entitled ‘For the Love of God’, was a risky undertaking. The cost of making it was inevitably reflected in the selling price.
Hirst revolutionised the art market with ‘Golden Calf”. A calf in formaldehyde with gold-plated horns and hooves leads a collection of previously unseen work by Damien Hirst that was auctioned in 2008 in a move that revolutionised the sale of contemporary art.
A living artist had never before put a collection of brand new work straight on to the open market. Such pieces were usually sold through galleries and art dealers, usually to buyers who were known to them. This method gave more control to the artist and opened up the sale to a much wider group of prospective buyers.