When Damien Hirst was a young artist, he had the luck of meeting art collector Charles Saatchi, who became his sponsor and boosted his strange works of art.
What would you do with nearly infinite resources? What would you make if you had all the money available to indulge in all of your creative fantasies? Most of us only get to imagine that, but some privileged artists throughout history have had the opportunity to do exactly that: create without restrictions. A modern artist who has been able to do that since the beginning of his career is Damien Hirst (1965). As a young emerging artist, art collector Charles Saatchi became his sponsor after visiting one of his first exhibitions as a student. Damien’s tutor during that time, Michael Craig-Martin, said the whole event was the result of “youthful bravado, innocence, fortunate timing, good luck, and, of course, good work.” You can be inspired by that bravado, which Hirst has kept through the years, even if you don’t like his relentlessly controversial work.
A Thousand Years, (1990)
Damien Hirst became a notorious figure in the art world in the 1990s, and A Thousand Years was the catalyst for his increasing fame. Throughout his career, death has been one of his main interests. As he explained in an interview, “You can frighten people with death or an idea of their own mortality, or it can actually give them vigour.” To give people the vigor he mentions, he showed a rotting cow’s head in the center of a room. Naturally, flies covered the decaying head, which was Hirst’s intention: he wanted to show constant movement, continuously changing patterns, and a clear depiction of life and death, even as the flies fell to the floor.
In and Out of Love, (1991)
He reproduced the same kind of hypnotizing movement in In and Out of Love, but with a different insect. In the case of A Thousand Years, people didn’t want to get too close to the dead animal, but in this installation people were able to walk among flying butterflies. Here, the subject of life and death continues, and Hirst made the cycle clear by adding flowers and sugar, allowing butterflies to mate, lay eggs, hatch, and fly around until their death. The little remains were left there, so visitors in the installation could see the process of life and death happening at the same time.
The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, (1991)
However, perhaps Hirst's most famous work is his thirteen-foot shark inside a tank of formaldehyde that has become an icon in popular culture. It weighs 23 tons, and it’s intended to intimidate the viewer with its size and the simple fact that it’s a huge, monstrous animal in the middle of an art gallery. Of course, this work also has to do with death. According to the artist, like a shark, the idea of death scares us, and no matter how much we try to deal with our fear by avoiding it, it will always be there, looming as our unavoidable fate.
For the Love of God, (2007)
So, yes, Hirst had impressive beginnings, and almost two decades later the presence of death in his works is still a recurrent theme. He has had several critics throughout the years, but the negative criticism intensified when he intended (and failed) to sell this diamond skull for £50 million. Aside from death, the subject of money is implied in his work due to its incredibly high cost. That’s why some artists have criticized his work too, like Eugenio Merino through his 4 The Love of Go(l)d sculpture (which displayed the figure of Hirst inside a glass case). With the opulence of his art, Hirst might be mocking the art market while simultaneously enjoying his privileged position within it. But, does that contradiction really make his work phony?
Many people think Hirst’s work is overrated and it only uses ridiculously expensive materials to attract the public’s (and the rich art collectors') attention without offering any real artistic value. Can we blame him? Since he has had nearly infinite resources from the beginning, he can do whatever he wants with his works and use any material to create interesting proposals in the art world.
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