Here is a summary of Damien Hirst's retrospective at Tate Modern including his signature spot and spin paintings, his diamond-studded skull and his animals in formaldehyde. The issue: is Hirst an important artist or merely an accomplished showman?
Damien Hirst was born in 1965 in Bristol, England. His father's career focus was selling automobiles, while his mother worked to raise her son in the Catholic religion. Damien though, challenged these conventions of familiarity and ventured out from the realms of normality to earn his success in the art world. In an early art A-level course, Hirst received a disappointing grade of "E." However, not discouraging easily, he ignored the inferior marking and persisted with his desire. He attended The School of Art in Leeds, and later earned his B.A. in Fine Arts at Goldsmith College. He currently resides in England with Mia Norman, his girlfriend, and his young son Connor.
While still in college, Damien received his first big break. Through his organization of a student art exhibit, "Freeze," he was discovered by the distinguished British art collector, Charles Saatchi. This recognition by Saatchi began a valuable partnership between artist and collector, a cooperative alliance in which Saatchi promoted the young artist, elevating not only his status, but also the value of his works. Saatchi, being one of the biggest consumers of Damien's work, in turn elevated the caliber and worth of his personal collection.
Hirst is most known for his organic work featuring the sometimes rotting remains of once living, breathing animals. These pieces are often bisected and placed in huge glass cases filled with formaldehyde. Each work is accompanied by a somewhat descriptive and yet poetic title. These titles serve as an explanation of the sculptures, as they reveal a bit of the artist's insight into the piece.
In the controversial "Sensation" exhibit in Britain, Damien showed his "Mother and Child Divided" sculpture. This piece consists of a mother cow and her baby calf; both are contained within the glass walls of separate cases. The audience is therefore encouraged to interact with the installation by walking between the cases and viewing the carcasses up close and face to face.
Another such work shown in the "Sensation" exhibits in the Britain and at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living", is comprised of a huge (17 feet long) dead tiger shark once again encased in formaldehyde and glass. The glass and steel case for this shark weigh twenty-two tons and the work is of a massive scale. Like many of his works, this piece deals with issues of life and death.
While Hirst places an emphasis on cattle and fish, he does not limit himself to these two species; he has also encased pigs and sheep. In one instance his work was almost banned from the United States for health reasons. It was stopped first by Customs, and delayed entrance into the country until it could be examined. The Department of Agriculture was not convinced that his art was going to be used for purely aesthetic purposes. Fearing that Mad Cow disease (an unfamiliar disease that consumed the press with sensational headlines), could possibly be contracted from of the installation, they denied the work entrance into the country until Damien proved that the animal remains were to be used strictly as art.
In a recent work Damien displayed his talents as an artist through the creation of his "Hymn" sculpture. This piece is a replica of his son Connor's anatomical toy. He increased the dimensions to 500% that of the original figure, painted it a glowing bronze, and personally deemed the finished product fine art. The original manufacturing company, Humbrol, in turn sued Hirst for copyright infractions. The outcome of the case resulted in Hirst donating a portion of his profit, gained from selling the work, to several children's charities.
On a completely different realm of the artistic spectrum, Hirst has developed a type of work know as spin paintings. In a process that closely resembles that of Jackson Pollock, Hirst throws paint onto a spinning circular canvas. The paint spreads in unpredictable patterns and therefore creates original compositions that are impossible to duplicate. Again, Hirst attaches an explanatory title, although these often seem so far off base with the painting that it is impossible to piece together an explanation.
Having a fascination for medical supplies he has done numerous works incorporating surgical paraphernalia and drugs. Some pieces display medications in glass cases, others cleverly disguise food with drug and vitamin labels. One such piece, titled "Looking Forward to the Total and Absolute Suppression of Pain," is a compilation of commercials for headache medication. A television commercial, one for each type of drug, competes through volume level for the audience's attention.
Hirst also credits himself with the creation of "Dot" paintings. These paintings are made of hundreds of multicolored dots, side by side, in perfect alignment. Each dot is symmetrically placed in a square grid consisting of rows and columns. Claiming ownership to the origination of the dots, Hirst contemplated suing a British Airline company for using a replica of his idea.
Hirst has also established himself as a musician, restaurant owner, and album designer. Within the last decade, he opened the Pharmacy Restaurant and Bar, an authentic diner and drinking establishment in London. Art patrons find this dining experience gratifying, as they are given the chance to interact with an original form of living, action art.
Continuing to prove his character dynamic, he has shown musical artistry as well. Working closely with the music group, Blur, he directed their In the Country video. In addition, he has designed an album cover for the music group, The Eurythmics.
Damien Hirst has been viewed by some as an outrage to the art world, to others he is seen as a master of intellectual and artistic genius. While critics scurry to dissect his intentions, Hirst keeps their conclusions just out of grasp through cutting edge innovations and creations in his art making process.
Page author: J.S. & C.F.