Damien Hirst, born on June 7, 1965, in Bristol, England, is a British assemblagist, painter, and conceptual artist. His deliberately provocative art addresses vanitas and beauty, death and rebirth, and medicine, technology, and mortality. Hirst is considered an enfant terrible of the 1990s art world; he presented dead animals in formaldehyde as art, much like the French artist Marcel Duchamp, who employed ready-made objects to shocking effect. In the process, Hirst questioned the very nature of art. In 1995, he won Tate Britain's Turner Prize, Great Britain's premier award for contemporary art.
Hirst grew up in Leeds and moved to London in the early 1980s. He began his artistic life as a painter and assemblagist. From 1986 to 1989, he attended Goldsmiths College in London, and during this time, he curated an influential student show, "Freeze," which was attended by the British advertising mogul and art collector Charles Saatchi. The exhibition showcased the work of a group of Hirst's classmates who later became known as the successful Young British Artists (YBAs) of the 1990s. Hirst's reputation as both an artist and a provocateur quickly soared. His displays of animals in formaldehyde and installations complete with live maggots and butterflies were seen as reflections on mortality and the human unwillingness to confront it. Most of his works were given elaborate titles that underscored his general preoccupation with mortality.
Hirst's later work included paintings made by spin machines, enlarged ashtrays filled with cigarette butts, monumental anatomical models of the human torso, medicine cabinets filled with pharmaceuticals, other curiosity cabinets filled with found objects, and a diamond-studded platinum-cast human skull entitled "For the Love of God," probably the most expensive work of art ever made. His references to other artistic movements and artists were many. The common format of massive vitrines, for example, relied on the precedent of minimalism, while his use of found materials and assistants in making works linked him to other artists of the era, such as the American Jeff Koons, who purposefully demystified the role of the artist's hand.
Never one to follow the rules, Hirst made headlines (and a fortune) in 2008 when he put up a selection of his work at auction and reaped more than $200 million dollars, rather than selling through a gallery as is customary. During the 2017 Venice Biennale, he concurrently held his own solo exhibition, "Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable," in two venues. The monumental installation featured sculptures and other objects presented as the remains from a fictional 2,000-year-old shipwreck off the coast of Africa.
Hirst's art has been shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions, including major retrospectives at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples (2004) and Tate Modern (2012) in London. He has also written books, designed restaurants, collaborated on pop music projects, and experimented with film.