Born 1965, Bristol, England
Graduated Goldsmith's College, London, 1989
Lives and works in London and Devon, England
Damien Hirst is the most prominent of the Young British Artists (the YBAs) that emerged in Britain in the 1990s. This group first gained notoriety when British advertising magnate and collector Charles Saatchi began buying and showing their work in his galleries. Like many of the YBAs, Hirst confronts big themes head-on including life, death, science and religion. His mixed-media sculptures are created from a frequently controversial assortment of carcasses suspended in formaldehyde, cigarette butts, pharmaceutical packaging, and surgical instruments, often encased in glass vitrines.
The earliest Hirst works to attract critical attention were his so-called "dot paintings," an example of which is The Broad Art Foundation’s Chlorprotamide (pfs) , 1996. The paintings are composed of hundreds of identically-sized colored dots aligned into grids and named after controlled substances. In the Warholian tradition of repetitive, serial images, these unashamedly formulaic paintings use their simple, cheerful means to suggest some anxious questions, such as: Is art a drug? Do drugs heal or harm? Following the dot paintings, Hirst pushed further into this thematic territory by creating a series of medicine cabinets filled with drug bottles and pharmaceutical packaging, both old and new, symbolizing art's reputed "healing power" in the most direct possible way.
Over the years, Hirst has continued to meditate on the rituals of nature and death in often monumental, headline grabbing scale. His most famous series, Natural History , featured animals preserved in formaldehyde in large tanks, from which the Foundation acquired Away from the Flock 2004, a sheep suspended in fluid. The lamb in Away From the Flock vacillates between its nascent, wooly state and its current lifeless, pickled state referencing the sacrificial lamb as a representation of Christ. Hirst looks for an aesthetic beauty in death, often with the realization that beauty itself may depend on cycles of life and passing away of matter.
Such haunting beauty is found in the Foundation’s commission The Kingdom of the Father, 2007, a colossal triptych made of thousands of butterflies mired in house paint. The deaths of thousands of individual butterflies add a sobering note to the astonishing grandeur of these paintings, made to mimic the stained glass of a church apse. By turning raw, physical matter into an object of seemingly metaphysical import, Hirst upends our assumptions about how images represent reality and communicate culturally.