Damien Hirst (born 7 June 1965) 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.
Death is a central theme in Hirst’s works. He became famous for a series in which dead animals (including a shark, a sheep and a cow) are preserved—sometimes having been dissected—in formaldehyde. The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, a 14-foot (4.3 m) tiger shark immersed in formaldehyde in a vitrine became the iconic work of British art in the 1990s, and the symbol of Britart worldwide.Its sale in 2004 made him the world’s second most expensive living artist after Jasper Johns.
In June 2007, Hirst overtook Jasper Johns when his Lullaby Spring sold for £9.65 million at Sotheby’s in London. On 30 August 2007, Hirst outdid his previous sale of Lullaby Spring with For The Love of God which sold for £50 million to an unknown investment group. He is also known for “spin paintings,” made on a spinning circular surface, and “spot paintings,” which are rows of randomly-coloured circles.
In September 2008, he took an unprecedented move for an artist of his status by selling a complete show, Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, at Sotheby’s by auction and by-passing his long-standing galleries. The auction exceeded all predictions, raising £111 million ($198 million), breaking the record for a one-artist auction as well as Hirst’s own record with £10.3 million for The Golden Calf, an animal with 18-carat gold horns and hooves, preserved in formaldehyde.
Hirst has admitted serious drug and alcohol problems during a ten year period from the early 1990s: “I started taking cocaine and drink … I turned into a babbling fucking wreck.”. During this time he was renowned for his wild behaviour and extrovert acts, including for example, putting a cigarette in the end of his penis in front of journalists. He was an habitué of the high profile Groucho Club in Soho, London, and was banned on occasion for his behavior.
Although Hirst participated physically in the making of early works, he has always needed assistants (Carl Freedman helped with the first vitrines), and now the volume of work produced necessitates a “factory” setup, akin to Andy Warhol’s or a Renaissance studio. This has led to questions about authenticity, as was highlighted in 1997, when a spin painting that Hirst said was a “forgery” appeared at sale, although he had previously said that he often had nothing to do with the creation of these pieces.