Born in 1965 in Bristol, Hirst grew up in Leeds and subsequently went to Goldsmith’s College in London. Between 1988 and 1990 he curated a series of exhibitions of work by his contemporaries including the highly acclaimed group shows Freeze, Modern Medicine and Gambler.
In his own work Hirst has continually challenged the boundaries between art, science, the media and popular culture. A 12-foot tiger shark, a cow and her calf sawn in two, pharmaceutical bottles, house paint poured onto spinning canvases, spot paintings, cigarette butts, medicine cabinets, office furniture, medical instruments, butterflies and tropical fish are just some of the means Hirst employs to communicate his unflinching view of the ambiguity at the heart of human experience. Hirst has said ‘I am going to die and I want to live forever. I can’t escape the fact, and I can’t let go of the desire.’
Whilst best known for the ‘Natural History’ works that present animals suspended in formaldehyde, Hirst has also presented works that attest to the transience of biological existence. An early work ‘In and Out of Love’ (1991) focuses on a butterfly’s brief life-span from hatching to decay, whilst ‘A Thousand Years’ (1990) consists of a rotting cow’s head, sugar solution, fly eggs and a fly zapper a veritable memento mori in the ‘Vanitas’ tradition. In many of Hirst’s works the glass vitrine functions as both window and barrier, seducing the viewer into the work visually whilst providing a minimalist geometry to rigorously frame, contain and objectify the subject, thus avoiding sentimental expressionism. It is a way of getting the viewer to think about things they may not wish to think about. Hirst makes iconoclastic works recasting the fundamental questions concerning the meaning of life, the existence of God and death as the final limit, in paradoxically the most factual and unorthodox way.
In many of the sculptures of the 1990s such as ‘The Acquired Inability to Escape’ (1991) and ‘The Asthmatic Escaped’ (1992) a human presence was implied through the inclusion of ‘relic’ like objects in the works; clothes, cigarettes, ashtrays, tables, chairs, a Ventolin inhaler. That implied presence has become explicit in works such as ‘Ways of Seeing’ (2000), a vitrine sculpture that presents the figure of a laboratory technician seated at a desk heightening the sense of being trapped and of being reduced to a single function: an eye looking through a microscope. The more celebratory work ‘Hymn’ (2000), a polychrome bronze sculpture, reveals the anatomical musculature and internal organs of the human body on a colossal scale. However, ‘Charity’ (2003) another bronze that played with scale as a tool subverted the classical practise of elevating a noble subject, by selecting the most dejected and wretched image ¬of a disabled girl with her leg in a splint, scuffed clothes and her charity box broken into, at once registering it’s monumentality and vulnerability.
Hirst has had exhibitions in galleries and museums throughout the world. In 1994 Hirst received the DAAD fellowship in Berlin and the Turner Prize in 1995.The Marble Palace at the Russian State Museum, Llubljana made a solo exhibition of Hirst’s drawings in 2003 as part of the 25th International Graphic Biennale. In 2004, Hirst collaborated with Sarah Lucas and Angus Fairhurst on an exhibition of recent works entitled In-a-Gadda-da-Vida at Tate Britain and presented a survey of key works from 1989-2004 at the Museo Nazionale Archaeologico de Naples.