Monday 15 June 2015

Damien Hurst at 50: A Review of his Career and Work:


‘It’s amazing what you can do with an E in A-Level art, a twisted imagination and a chainsaw.’


This quote demonstrates Hirst’s self-deprecating sense of humour! 

He first achieved media fame and notoriety with a thirteen-foot shark in formaldehyde entitled: ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’ (1991).  There followed other celebrated artworks including ‘dot paintings’, ‘spin works’ and a diamond encrusted skull. 

(The dot paintings were the subject of exhibitions at the Gargosian galleries simultaneously throughout the world in 2012.)


Young British Artists and Cool Britannia:

Once thought of as the ‘enfant terrible’ of contemporary art, Hurst was part of a movement loosely termed ‘Young British Artists’ alongside Sarah Lucus, Tracey Emin, the Chapman brothers; alongside gallerists Jay Joplin and Charles Saatchi.


Despite the controversies he has sold millions of pounds worth of art.  Breaking with tradition, he was the subject of a stand-alone auction at Sotheby’s where all lots were sold.  The sale generated over $100 million.

The subject of a Tate Modern retrospective in 2012.  According to the BBC, this was the most visited solo show in the history of Tate Modern.


Here lies the essence of what makes Damien Hurst so fascinating as a person and I believe is the secret to his success:  there is something disarmingly honest and down-to-earth in his attitude, dare I say, it makes him likeable and his art becomes appealing.  I watched an interview with Hirst and Charlie Rose.  Initially sceptical about his ‘art’ I grew to like Hirst more and more as the interview progressed; and from that an appreciation of what he was saying and for his art followed.


His success as an artist is indeed astonishing: he is commercially very successful amassing a fortune estimated at £300 million.  His wealth dwarfs artists like David Hockney whose artistic talents and skills as a draughtsman cannot be doubted.

This leads many to argue whether Hirst is indeed an artist or a showman.  The debate adds to the mystique and fascination, but his ability to generate attention and sales is unquestionable.


Will his artwork stand the test of time? 

It is hard to say and time will tell.  Yet, it should be acknowledged that Hirst should be praised for the success and celebrity he has achieved and the way this has generated interest in the arts – raising the profile of British art and contributing to the image of ‘Cool Britannia’ in the mid 1990s.  The then-Heritage Secretary Virginia Bottomley described him as: a pioneer of the British art movement’.  Janet Street Porter praised his originality, which has brought art to new audiences:

‘(he is) the art-world equivalent of the Oasis Concert at Earl’s Court’.