Who is Damien Hirst?

The British artist Damien Hirst is internationally recognised for his irreverent approach to artmaking, exploring themes central to our existence through his iconic motifs and innovative engagement with various media.

Following a foundation year at Jacob Kramer College in Leeds, Hirst studied at Goldsmiths College in London from 1986 to 1989. There he explored Minimalism and Conceptual Art which he applied to his perennial interest in colour and subjects such as medicine. This work soon established him as the face of the Young British Artists, the dominating group in the British art scene in the 1990s which was known for their experimentation and production of provocative artworks. 

Hirst’s name soon became synonymous with contemporary art, in part due to the emergence of his Natural History series in which animals are immortalised in formaldehyde-filled tanks. Whilst his Natural History and vitrine sculptures were quickly becoming emblematic of his work, painting remained essential to his practice: “I’ve had a romance with painting all my life, even if I avoided it. As a young artist, you react to the context, your situation. In the 1980s, painting wasn’t really the way to go.” 

The impact of the contemporary practices taught at Goldsmiths on Hirst’s work can be seen in the transformation from his early Abstract Expressionism-inspired canvases to his Spot Paintings series. Begun in 1986, this series is composed of coloured dots which look like they were “painted by a human trying to paint like a machine.” Though initially conceived as an infinite series, today the Spot Paintings series includes over one thousand paintings of varies sizes, shapes, colours and titles. 

The systematic precision and organisation of the Spot Paintings works contrast to Hirst’s Visual Candy paintings from 1993 to 1995, a series modelled after a heart-wrenching comment by his tutor from Jacob Kramer College who said the paintings looked like curtains. These works are characterised by thick paint and encroaching fields of exuberant colour. 

More recently, the Colour Space series (2016), inspired by the infinite possibility of colour explored in the first work from Spot Paintings, and Veil Paintings (2018), dreamlike environments on canvas of Pointillist-like dabs of shimmering paint, celebrate the surface, depth and colour of painting.

After ten years in the making, in 2017 Hirst presented Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable at Punta della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi in Venice. Rooted in a fabricated legend of an ancient shipwreck, these sculptures and drawings weave fact and fiction to establish a labyrinthine narrative. These supposed archaeological relics range from coins and plates to marble and bronze sculptures, many of which are encrusted with coral and marine life. Accompanied by documentary photography and video, the project engages with the power of myth, exposing ideas of value and the mutability of history, belief and art itself.