Damien Steven Hirst (born 7 June 1965) is an English artist and the most prominent member of the group known as "Young British Artists" (or YBAs), who dominated the art scene in Britain during the 1990s. He is internationally renowned, and has been claimed to be the richest living artist to date. During the 1990s his career was closely linked with the collector Charles Saatchi, but increasing frictions came to a head in 2003 and the relationship ended.
Death is a central theme in Hirst's works.He became famous for a series of artworks in which dead animals (including a shark, a sheep and a cow) are preserved—sometimes having been dissected—in formaldehyde. The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, a 14-foot (4.3 m) tiger shark immersed in formaldehyde in a vitrine became the iconic work of British art in the 1990s, and the symbol of Britart worldwide. He has also made "spin paintings," created on a spinning circular surface, and "spot paintings", which are rows of randomly-colored circles.
In September 2008, he took an unprecedented move for a living artist by selling a complete show, Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, at Sotheby's by auction and by-passing his long-standing galleries. The auction exceeded all predictions, raising £111 million ($198 million), breaking the record for a one-artist auction as well as Hirst's own record with £10.3 million for The Golden Calf, an animal with 18-carat gold horns and hooves, preserved in formaldehyde.
Damien Hirst was born in Bristol and grew up in Leeds. His father was a motor mechanic, who left the family when Hirst was 12. His mother, Mary, was a lapsed Catholic, who worked for the Citizens Advice Bureau and says she lost control of him when he was young. He was arrested on two occasions for shoplifting. However, Hirst sees her as someone who would not tolerate rebellion: she cut up his bondage trousers and heated one of his Sex Pistols vinyl records on the cooker to turn it into a fruit bowl (or a plant pot). He says, "If she didn't like how I was dressed, she would quickly take me away from the bus stop." She did, though, encourage his liking for drawing, which was his only successful educational subject.
His art teacher "pleaded" for Hirst to be allowed to enter the sixth form, where he took two A-levels, achieving an "E" grade in art. He was refused admission to Leeds College of Art and Design, when he first applied, but attended the college after a subsequent successful application.
He went to an exhibition of work by Francis Davison, staged by Julian Spalding at the Hayward Gallery in 1983. Davison created abstract collages from torn and cut coloured paper, which Hirst said, "blew me away", and which he modelled his own work on for the next two years.
He worked for two years on London building sites, then studied Fine Art at Goldsmiths, University of London (1986–89), although again he was refused a place the first time he applied. In 2007, Hirst was quoted as saying of An Oak Tree by Goldsmiths' senior tutor, Michael Craig-Martin: "That piece is, I think, the greatest piece of conceptual sculpture. I still can't get it out of my head." While a student, Hirst had a placement at a mortuary, an experience that influenced his later themes and materials.