The (not so) Young British Artists are definitely getting together to throw a raucous party tonight, because today is the birthday of their most prominent member -- the one and only Damien Steven Hirst. The formaldehyde loving, polka dot painting artist turns 47 today.
Hirst was born in Bristol, England before moving to Leeds, where morbid teenage curiosity led him to sketch postmortem body parts at the local medical school. His mother ultimately supported her son's fledgling art talents, and once of age, Hirst moved to London to work in construction before being accepted into the Fine Arts program at Goldsmith College.
It was in the late 1980s that the British artist began combining installation, sculpture, painting and drawing to explore his still strong obsession with death and dying. In 1988, while still a college student, Hirst led an exhibition entitled Freeze, a swath of mixed-media work involving boxes and dotted warehouse walls. It was at this point that the artist began demonstrating his exceptional ability to market his own work, a talent that would later earn him millions for a single sale.
In the 1990s, the Young British Artists, the name for Hirst and his contemporaries who had shared warehouse origins in the London Docklands, continued to exhibit to increasing success. In 1992, Hirst debuted "The Physical Impossibility of Death in Mind of Someone Living," the now-iconic shark immersed in formaldehyde that preempted the artist's nomination for a Turner Prize. Soon after, he followed his dead shark with a dead cow and calf, part of his "Mother and Child Divided" installation that quite literally cut the animals in half. Either the Tate Gallery just couldn't get enough of Hirst's very dead creations, or they thought that if they didn't finally reward his efforts that he would proceed to put all of Great Britain's wildlife in vitrines. Either way, he won the coveted Turner Prize in 1995.
Hirst has continued to explore the gaps and interchanges between life and death, as well as proceed with polka-dotted installations and heavily criticized paintings. The bad-boy of Britart has gone on to collaborate with Eddie Izzard, show at the Gagosian, publish a very lengthily titled autobiography, sue British Airways, befriend the Clash, and a slew of other things that solidified his celebrity in the UK. In 2008, he broke records at Sotheby's with the sale of his Beautiful Inside My Head Forever exhibit, and "The Physical Impossibility" can be seen on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art today.
So raise your glass today to Damien Hirst, the artist who incites endless amounts of label dichotomies! We like to imagine that he and all of his companions are heading to a Soho warehouse filled with taxidermy, spin-paint stations and platinum skulls to celebrate. A girl can dream.
And In honor of his birthday, check out a slideshow of Hirst's harshest criticism below!