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British artist Damien Hirst has shocked and surprised the art world with his unusual works, including glass displays of dead animals and medicine cabinet sculptures.
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A successful and controversial artist, Damien Hirst was born in Bristol, England, on June 7, 1965. He emerged as a leading figure in the Young British Artists movement in the late 1980s and 1990s. His works, which include dead animal displays and spin-art paintings, have sold for exceptionally high prices. Hirst is one of the wealthiest artists living today.
Raised Catholic, Damien Hirst grew up in Leeds. His early religion education would later factor into his artwork. He showed an interest in the grisly and gruesome aspects of life early on. His mother would later describe him as a morbid child.
As a teenager, Hirst liked to look at illustrated pathology books, fascinated by the images of disease and injury. He also showed an interest in drawing, a passion his mother supported. His father, a car mechanic, left the family when he was only 12 years old.
Hirst got into trouble as teenager, and was caught shoplifting twice. Despite his sometimes wild behavior, he made his way to college. Hirst studied art at the Goldsmith's College at the University of London. While there, he put together a ground-breaking exhibit entitled "Freeze" in 1988. The show featured the works of Fiona Rae, Sarah Lucas, and others, as well as his own.
Hirst and his fellow students became part of an emerging movement known as the Young British Artists. They were known for their unusual materials and for their challenging art concepts. One of Hirst's early works, "With Dead Head," illustrates his interest in death and shaking up the art establishment. In the photograph the artist, with a huge grin on his face, poses next to a severed head in a morgue.
While not everyone was enthralled with his work, Hirst received support from Charles Saatchi, advertising titan and art collector. Saatchi lent financial assistance to Hirst, and also started collecting Hirst's pieces, which also advanced the artist's reputation. Saatchi bought two of Hirst's medicine cabinet sculptures, which one critic later said constituted "a constellation of still lifes that express and reflect the human body as a field of vulnerabilities and of hopeful medical interventions."
In 1991, Hirst had his first solo exhibition at the Woodstock Street Gallery in London. He also participated in the Young British Artists show at the Saatchi Gallery the following year. There he displayed "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living," a 14-foot-long glass tank with a shark preserved in formaldehyde. The shark had been bought from an Australian fisherman.
Hirst continued to set the art world on fire with his work at the 1993 Venice Bienniale, a renowned international art exhibition. There he showed "Mother and Child Divided," an installation piece that featured a bisected cow and her calf displayed in four vitrines, or glass cases, filled with formaldehyde. With his controversial and sometimes gruesome works, Hirst soon became one of the best known artists in Britain.
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