Born in Bristol in 1965, Damien Hirst’s work spans multiple genres, media, and materials, and has positioned him one of Britain’s leading contemporary artists. Hirst studied under Michael Craig-Martin at Goldsmiths College, London, before achieving notoriety as one of the prominent Young British Artists (YBAs) after presenting The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, a 6-foot tiger shark suspended within a vitrine of formaldehyde, at Charles Saatchi’s infamous exhibition in 1992.
Although an informal group of artists, the YBAs shared a combination of entrepreneurial and oppositional attitudes, incorporating found materials and aspiring to generate shock. Themes of life and death, and the question of ‘what constitutes art?’, are all apparent in Hirst’s Natural History series (1991-2013) of taxidermized animals, as well as the striking installation of a rotting cow’s head in A Thousand Years (1990). Yet it is the psychological and perceptual dichotomies that Hirst evokes, perhaps best illustrated in his series of kaleidoscopic butterfly paintings made by the arrangement of thousands of butterfly wings upon painted canvases, which is most consistent throughout his work: the conflict between the grotesque and beautiful, the unusual and the ordinary, at once calming and unnerving.
An artist who treats controversy and spectacle as part of his practice, Hirst's most famous institutional appearance was of his own making; in September 2008, he bypassed his representative galleries and held a two-day auction of his work at Sotheby’s, titled Beautiful Inside My Head Forever. An unprecedented move that generated £111 million in revenue whilst the international economy was on the brink of collapse. In 2012, Tate Modern recognised his contributions to art with a major retrospective, and in 2017, Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana welcomed a series of monumental, fantastical sculptures in his exhibition Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable. Hirst’s ambitious, captivating work continues to defy the boundaries of genre and medium, and can be seen in many major collections, including his very own Newport Street Gallery, which he opened in 2015.