Damien Hirst: an Obsession with Death / by Chris Hall

Reportedly the richest artist alive in the UK, Damien Hirst first burst into the art world in the 1990’s with his work A Thousand Years (1990) which consists of a large glass case containing maggots and flies feeding on a rotting cow's head.  At the time Hirst is reported as saying,"I can’t wait to get into a position to make really bad art and get away with it. At the moment if I did certain things people would look at it, consider it and then say 'f off'. But after a while you can get away with things."  

Damien Hirst, A Thousand Years, 1990

Damien Hirst, A Thousand Years, 1990

Hirst followed AThousand Years with a series of dead animals suspended in formaldehyde.  Among the most iconic of these is his The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991), created with money out of Charles Saatchi’s pocket.  He was nominated for the Turner Prize for the work in 1991, but lost to Grenville Davey (Hirst would win it later in 1995).  

Damien is also known for his Spot paintings. Thousands are known to exist, thanks to Hirst’s army of assistants, who rotate between paintings, but allow Hirst to have the final touch.  These mechanical paintings are purposefully devoid of any human sensibility.  

Damien Hirst, Abalone Acetone Powder, 1991

In 2007 Hirst made For the Love of God, a human skull recreated in platinum and encrusted with 8,601 diamonds and real human teeth.  It sold to consortium for $100,000,000.  Besides making another work obsessed with Death, he also created an object of art as a shameless display of wealth.

Damien Hirst, For the Love of God, 2007

Like Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst is not opposed to translating his work his work into the language of mass consumption.  Below are examples of Damien Hirst shoes, Damien Hirst pants, and Damien Hirst perfume.

I don’t mind a little Death in my art . . . it is a reality, a part of our human condition, and we need to be reminded of it.  But Death is the enemy, and we need to also remember to celebrate Life as well.