Damien Hirst, Bristol 1965
An international sensation, Damien Hirst is perhaps the best-known living British artist. Born in Bristol, Hirst moved to London to study at Goldsmith’s College, first making his mark by organizing Freeze, a student exhibition that launched the Young British Artists. This influential group of loosely affiliated artists, which included Hirst and his contemporaries Jake and Dinos Chapman, Tracey Emin, and Sarah Lucas, came to dominate the art scene of 1990s Britain. Ideas around life and death, science and religion are at the centre of Hirst’s work. In his most famous series, Natural History, Hirst suspended animal carcasses in formaldehyde. One of these works, Mother and Child (Divided) (1993), comprising four formaldehyde-filled tanks, each holding half of a severed cow and her calf, won him the Turner Prize in 1995. The search for aesthetic beauty in death is also evident in his much-loved butterfly paintings, in which hundreds of dead butterflies are adhered to canvas with paint in patterns evoking medieval stained glass. Likewise famous are his “spot paintings”, composed of hundreds of coloured dots arranged in grids and named after controlled substances, which pose the question, “is art a drug?” The notion of art’s potential for healing also permeates works in which Hirst filled medicine cabinets with pill bottles and other pharmaceutical packaging. Transforming ordinary materials and animal detritus into art objects freighted with often profound metaphysical significance, Hirst has created a highly provocative and often controversial body of work which challenges viewers to confront the paradoxical beauty inherent in human mortality.