Britain’s most famous living artist, Damien Hirst is a true officer of change. His paintings, installations and sculptures continue to divide the art world, where highfalutin protectors of real art consider his works an insult to the avant garde.
Hirst was a controversial figure from the very beginning of his contended career, seeking to engage the underdogs, outsiders and misfits with his works. Art was Hirst’s salvation; he first encountered its transformative power whilst perusing the frosty tones of John Hayland’s blue painting in Leeds City Art Gallery as a young boy.
In honour of the British prodigy’s fifty-fifth birthday, here are five things you didn’t know about Damien Hirst.
1. He had a criminal record
The cathartic nature of art was paramount in helping the young Hirst through the breakdown of his mother’s marriage. This unprecedented disruption to his homelife ignited a series of petty crimes, such as burglary, cheque book fraud, and stealing art supplies from his art college. His mother’s response to his rebellious behaviour was to take his favourite Sex Pistols record and melt it into a fruit bowl…
Damien Hirst with Kate Moss, 1997
2. He worked at a mortuary
Damien Hirst, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, 1991
During his years at Goldsmith’s University of London, Hirst worked at a mortuary which inspired much of his later work. Death has been central to the artist’s work from the beginning, as he seeks to ‘deal with death in art, not life’ because otherwise it risks making you ‘inactive’. Hirst’s frequent depiction of mortality has many critics convinced his infatuation is in fact a visceral response to a deep-rooted fear of death. The artist, however, claims he uses death to celebrate this usually feared concept, because ‘in art, everything is a celebration’.
3. He doesn’t physically create most of his works
His $78 million diamond-encrusted skull, For the Love of God, was actually made by Mayfair jewellers, Bentley and Skinner. Assistants painted the spots on his famous Spot Paintings because he ‘couldn’t be fucking bothered’, and his notable tiger shark swimming in formaldehyde (The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living) was produced by MDM Props of London.
Damien Hirst, Zirconyl Chloride, 2008
4. He still thinks penis jokes are funny
Damien Hirst, For the Love of God, 2007
As a woman in the 21st century, there is nothing less funny than an unsolicited dick pic or practical joke centred around a man’s member. Hirst, however, at the height of his sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll days thought the following debauched trick was a modern masterpiece. The (usually high-at-the-time) artist would pull his foreskin through a hole in his trousers and draw attention to it, luring his victims in by claiming it was chewing gum. Once an unsuspecting sufferer touched the unwelcome flap of his genitals, he would reveal it was, in fact, his penis! Hurrah, problematic practical jokes and non-consensual sex is still funny!
5. His rotting cow’s head was bought by Charles Saatchi
Placed inside a glass case, the decomposing cow’s head was being ravaged by flies and maggots live for all to see. Charles Saatchi, apparently awestruck, quickly snatched up the piece, luckily before all the other rotting-animal-head-aficionados got their credit cards out.
So if you’re looking for something to hang above your mantlepiece, but you can’t find the right decaying, decapitated organism, then why not check out our maggot-free paintings of animals here.
Damien Hirst, A Thousand Years, 1990