It's hard to believe that it has been over three decades since Damien Hirst made his first splash on the art scene. Since then, he has established himself as one of the most well-known and influential contemporary artists.
Whilst a lot of his life and practice is well documented, here we outline five things you may not have learned about Damien Hirst.
He loves the "Shock" Factor
Hirst's work often features themes of death and decay, which have drawn both outrage and admiration from the public.
Hirst first rose to fame in the early 1990s with his now-infamous piece, "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living." The work, which features a shark preserved in a formaldehyde tank, was both shocking and visually arresting, helping to cement Hirst's reputation as an artist who was not afraid to push boundaries.
In recent years, Hirst has caused controversy with his work on human remains. In one work, he displayed a human skull encrusted with diamonds (“For The Love of God”). Whilst some viewers praised the work for its beauty, others were offended by what they perceived as an abuse of human remains.
Hirst has always maintained that he likes to provoke discussion with his art because it makes people think about death differently. And he believes that art can help people deal with mortality more effectively.
He is No Stranger to a Lawsuit
Since emerging on the British art scene in the late 1980s, Hirst has been a polarizing figure, with some critics hailing him as a genius and others wildly dismissing his work.
Over the years the artist has also been the subject of several high-profile lawsuits, including a number of cases of legal threats surrounding copyright infringement by other artists and businesses.
One of the most famous cases was in 2000 when Hirst agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to charity ‘Humbrol’ to settle a copyright row sparked by his 20ft bronze sculpture ‘Hymn’ which, it was claimed, was a direct copy of its Young Scientist Anatomy Set.
He Was Not Always Keen on Art
Many people don't know that Hirst did not always want to pursue art. He once said: "I didn't know what painting was until I was 15 or 16 -- it was all just wallpaper." In fact, he only began to pursue it after being expelled from school.
According to Hirst, "I was bad at everything else." Fortunately, his talent for art was soon recognized, and he went on to study at the prestigious Goldsmiths College in London. Although his early career was marked by criticism, Hirst has since become one of the most successful artists in the world.
He Has Now Become One of the World's Wealthiest Artists
In 2020 the Sunday Times Rich List estimated Hirst's net worth at $384 million, putting him ahead of artists like Jeff Koons and Jasper Johns. A large portion of Hirst's wealth comes from his business ventures, including a successful jewellery line and an art-storage company.
He also owns several properties, including a (reported) £50 million mansion in London.
He Doesn't Just Make Art
‘Art’ is not Hirst’s only endeavour – he is also a savvy businessman. In addition to running his studio, art gallery (the Newport Street Gallery, London) and clothing line, he also has stakes in a range of other business ventures, including an experimental restaurant.
In 2005, he founded an art book publisher called Other Criteria, producing books, prints, and editions from top contemporary artists. He has also launched his perfume line, handcrafted by Lalique, and even collaborated with Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer to make two watches in a classic plastic design for Mickey Mouse's 90th anniversary.
So what is his secret?
The artist believes that "there is art in everything"; therefore, anything can be made into a work of art. This philosophy has not only allowed him to create some of his most notorious artworks but has also led him to take advantage of a wide range of commercial opportunities, many of which have proved lucrative for him.
"It's amazing what you can do with an E in A-Level art, a twisted imagination and a chainsaw" - Damien Hirst