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date: 26 November 2020

Hirst, Damien

The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists

Ian Chilvers

Hirst, Damien 

(b Bristol, 7 June 1965).

British sculptor, painter, and designer, whose flair for self-publicity has helped him become probably the most famous and controversial British artist of his generation (Tracey Emin being his only serious rival in this regard). While still a student at Goldsmiths College, London, he made a name for himself by organizing an exhibition of student work (‘Freeze’, 1988). From his youth he had a fascination with death, and his most famous work is The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991, priv. coll.), consisting of a dead tiger-shark balanced and weighted so that it floats in preserving fluid in a large tank made of glass and steel. In 1995 he was awarded the Turner Prize. The work he showed at the exhibition of shortlisted candidates' work at the Tate Gallery was Mother and Child Divided, consisting of four tanks containing the severed halves of a cow and calf. According to the accompanying catalogue, ‘Hirst strips the closest of bonds between living creatures to its starkest reality’, but many people hated the work, and a letter to The Times suggested that the Tate authorities must be suffering from mad cow disease.

Hirst’s varied output also includes paintings consisting of rows of coloured spots, and circular pictures made by dripping paint on a spinning canvas. Most of this work is done by assistants, but in 2009 an exhibition of Blue Paintings made with his own hand (in a style influenced by Francis Bacon) was held at the Wallace Collection, London. This received ‘one of the most unanimously negative responses to any exhibition in living memory’ (Mark Hudson in the Daily Telegraph), but nevertheless it attracted large crowds. See also Young British Artists.