He is internationally renowned, and is reportedly the United Kingdom's richest living artist, with his wealth valued at £215m in the 2010 Sunday Times Rich List. 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 of artworks in which dead animals (including a shark, a sheep and a cow) are preserved—sometimes having been dissected—in formaldehyde. The best known of these was 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 (clear display case). He has also made "spin paintings," created on a spinning circular surface, and "spot paintings", which are rows of randomly coloured circles created by his assistants.
In September 2008, he took an unprecedented move for a living artist by selling a complete show, Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, at Sotheby's by auction and bypassing 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.
Life and career
Career in contemporary art
In 1991, Charles Saatchi had offered to fund whatever artwork Hirst wanted to make, and the result was showcased in 1992 in the first Young British Artists exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in North London. Hirst's work was titled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living and was a shark in formaldehyde in a vitrine, and sold for £50,000. The shark had been caught by a commissioned fisherman in Australia and had cost £6,000. The exhibition also included In a Thousand Years. As a result of the show, Hirst was nominated for that year's Turner Prize, but it was awarded to Grenville Davey.
Hirst's first major international presentation was in the Venice Biennale in 1993 with the work, Mother and Child Divided, a cow and a calf cut into sections and exhibited in a series of separate vitrines. He curated the show Some Went Mad, Some Ran Away in 1994 at the Serpentine Gallery in London, where he exhibited Away from the Flock (a sheep in a tank of formaldehyde). On 9 May, Mark Bridger, a 35-year-old artist from Oxford, walked into the gallery and poured black ink into the tank, and retitled the work Black Sheep. He was subsequently prosecuted, at Hirst's wish, and was given two years' probation. The sculpture was restored at a cost of £1,000. When a photograph of Away from the Flock was reproduced in the 1997 book by Hirst I want to spend the rest of my life everywhere, with everyone, one-to-one, always, forever, now, the vandalism was referenced by allowing the tank to be obscured by pulling a card, reproducing the effect of ink being poured into the tank; this resulted in Hirst being sued by Bridger for violating his copyright on Black Sheep.
In 1995, Hirst won the Turner Prize. New York public health officials banned Two Fucking and Two Watching featuring a rotting cow and bull, because of fears of "vomiting among the visitors". There were solo shows in Seoul, London and Salzburg. He directed the video for the song "Country House" for the band Blur. No Sense of Absolute Corruption, his first solo show in the Gagosian Gallery in New York was staged the following year. In London the short film, Hanging Around, was shown—written and directed by Hirst and starring Eddie Izzard. In 1997 the Sensation exhibition opened at the Royal Academy in London. A Thousand Years and other works by Hirst were included, but the main controversy occurred over other artists' works. It was nevertheless seen as the formal acceptance of the YBAs into the establishment.
In 1997, his autobiography and art book, I Want To Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now, was published. With Alex James of the band Blur and actor Keith Allen, he formed the band Fat Les, achieving a number 2 hit with a raucous football-themed song Vindaloo, followed up by Jerusalem with the London Gay Men's Chorus. Hirst also painted a simple colour pattern for the Beagle 2 probe. This pattern was to be used to calibrate the probe's cameras after it had landed on Mars. He turned down the British Council's invitation to be the UK's representative at the 1999 Venice Biennale because "it didn't feel right". He threatened to sue British Airways claiming a breach of copyright over an advert design with coloured spots for its low budget airline, Go.
In 2000, Hirst's sculpture Hymn (which Saatchi had bought for a reported £1m) was given pole position at the show Ant Noises (an anagram of "sensation") in the Saatchi Gallery. Hirst was then sued himself for breach of copyright over this sculpture (see Appropriation below). Hirst sold three more copies of his sculpture for similar amounts to the first. In September 2000, in New York, Larry Gagosian held the Hirst show, Damien Hirst: Models, Methods, Approaches, Assumptions, Results and Findings. 100,000 people visited the show in 12 weeks and all the work was sold.
On 10 September 2002, on the eve of the first anniversary of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, Hirst said in an interview with BBC News Online:
"The thing about 9/11 is that it's kind of like an artwork in its own right. It was wicked, but it was devised in this way for this kind of impact. It was devised visually... You've got to hand it to them on some level because they've achieved something which nobody would have ever have thought possible, especially to a country as big as America. So on one level they kind of need congratulating, which a lot of people shy away from, which is a very dangerous thing."
The next week, following public outrage at his remarks, he issued a statement through his company, Science Ltd:
"I apologise unreservedly for any upset I have caused, particularly to the families of the victims of the events on that terrible day."
Hirst gave up smoking and drinking in 2002, although the short-term result was that his wife Maia "had to move out because I was so horrible." He had met Joe Strummer (former lead singer of The Clash) at Glastonbury in 1995, becoming good friends and going on annual family holidays with him. Just before Christmas 2002, Strummer died of a heart attack. This had a profound effect on Hirst, who said, "It was the first time I felt mortal." He subsequently devoted a lot of time to founding a charity, Strummerville, to help young musicians.
In April 2003, the Saatchi Gallery opened at new premises in County Hall, London, with a show that included a Hirst retrospective. This brought a developing strain in his relationship with Saatchi to a head (one source of contention had been who was most responsible for boosting their mutual profile). Hirst disassociated himself from the retrospective to the extent of not including it in his CV. He was angry that a Mini car that he had decorated for charity with his trademark spots was being exhibited as a serious artwork. The show also scuppered a prospective Hirst retrospective at Tate Modern. He said Saatchi was "childish" and "I'm not Charles Saatchi's barrel-organ monkey ... He only recognises art with his wallet ... he believes he can affect art values with buying power, and he still believes he can do it."
In September 2003, he had an exhibition Romance in the Age of Uncertainty at Jay Jopling's White Cube gallery in London, which made him a reported £11m, bringing his wealth to over £35m. It was reported that a sculpture, Charity, had been sold for £1.5m to a Korean, Kim Chang-Il, who intended to exhibit it in his department store's gallery in Seoul. The 22-foot (6.7m), 6-ton sculpture was based on the 1960s Spastic Society's model, which is of a girl in leg irons holding a collecting box. In Hirst's version the collecting box is shown broken open and is empty.
Charity was exhibited in the centre of Hoxton Square, in front of the White Cube. Inside the gallery downstairs were 12 vitrines representing Jesus's disciples, each case containing mostly gruesome, often blood-stained, items relevant to the particular disciple. At the end was an empty vitrine, representing Christ. Upstairs were four small glass cases, each containing a cow's head stuck with scissors and knives. It has been described as an "extraordinarily spiritual experience" in the tradition of Catholic imagery. At this time Hirst bought back 12 works from Saatchi (a third of Saatchi's holdings of Hirst's early works), through Jay Jopling, reportedly for more than £8 million. Hirst had sold these pieces to Saatchi in the early 1990s for rather less, his first installations costing under £10,000.
On 24 May 2004, a fire in the Momart storage warehouse destroyed many works from the Saatchi collection, including 17 of Hirst's, although the sculpture Charity survived, as it was outside in the builder's yard. That July, Hirst said of Saatchi, "I respect Charles. There's not really a feud. If I see him, we speak, but we were never really drinking buddies."
Hirst designed a cover for the Band Aid 20 charity single featuring the "Grim Reaper" in late 2004. The image showed an African child perched on his knee. This was not to the liking of the record company executives and was replaced by reindeer in the snow standing next to a child.
In December 2004, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living was sold by Saatchi to American collector Steve Cohen, for $12 million (£6.5 million), in a deal negotiated by Hirst's New York agent, Gagosian. Cohen, a Greenwich hedge fund manager, then donated the work to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Sir Nicholas Serota had wanted to acquire it for the Tate Gallery, and Hugo Swire, Shadow Minister for the Arts, tabled a question to ask if the government would ensure it stayed in the country. Current export regulations do not apply to living artists.
Hirst exhibited 30 paintings at the Gagosian Gallery in New York in March 2005. These had taken 3½ years to complete. They were closely based on photos, mostly by assistants (who were rotated between paintings) but with a final finish by Hirst.
In February 2006, he opened a major show in Mexico, at the Hilario Galguera Gallery, called The Death of God, Towards a Better Understanding of Life without God aboard The Ship of Fools. The exhibition attracted considerable media coverage as Hirst's first show in Latin America. In June that year, he exhibited alongside the work of Francis Bacon (Triptychs) at the Gagosian Gallery, Britannia Street, London. Included in the exhibition was the seminal vitrine, A Thousand Years (1990), and four triptychs: paintings, medicine cabinets and a new formaldehyde work entitled The Tranquility of Solitude (For George Dyer), influenced by Bacon.