Damien Hirst belongs to an art movement that began in London around the late 1980’s called, “Young British Artists.” Hirst has two notable achievements, his Bachelor’s degree in fine art from Goldsmiths College in 1989 and winning the Turner Prize in 1995. In addition to having such noteworthy credentials, Damien has contributed to conceptual and installation art in a way that allows us to appreciate themes that are often seen as unconventional or morbid, for example, death.
That being said, conceptual art emerged in the 1960’s (five years before Hirst was born) and it is a type of art that is driven by concepts and ideas rather than aesthetics and materials. Installation art, on the other hand, emerged in the 1970’s and it differs in that it involves three-dimensional works that are often site-specific and arranged in such a way as to transform the perception of a space.
That being said, my favorite exhibition of Damien Hirst is, “Beyond Belief.” Beyond Belief was described as an exploration into our relationship with the concepts of life and death. This exhibition gained lots of publicity with art enthusiasts referring to it as “his largest exhibition of new work to be held in London since 2003.” In this exhibition, I found my favorite piece which also happened to be the focal point of his exhibition. This piece is titled, “For the Love of God” (2007). This piece satisfied within me my infatuation with beautiful things that shine, like diamonds and my long-life curiosity with death. Damien gives death a redeeming quality and his piece reminds me of God as a redeemer.
To me, the diamonds represent God’s children and the way God finds us dirty, tattered and destroyed due to the effects of sin. Yet God looks down on us in compassion and love because He knows something beautiful and valuable lies beneath the surface. Much like an artist, God shapes and molds us into a beautiful diamond after His image. We are the light of the world that shine like the diamonds in Damien’s piece. I find it quite soothing and comforting to know that Damien Hirst describes this piece as, “victory over death.” It reminds me that Jesus conquered death at the cross when he paid the wages of sin.
Another piece in “Beyond Belief” is a piece titled “The Incomplete Truth” (2006). In this piece, Damien shows beautiful symmetry. I thoroughly appreciate the simple designs of his pieces because they don’t distract from the center subject that is the dove. The big tiel background lies behind a dove in formaldehyde and I like the tiel and white contrast. Damien keeps his pieces simple yet meaningful because of the unconventional raw materials that he uses. Some of his raw materials and themes are controversial but he presents them with respect and beauty so that it’s hard to revolt against them. One is forced to accept the themes of death and the impermanence of life.
Moving on, Damien’s journey with art started at a very young age. His early experiences with art show passion and effort. Damien went out of his way to explore and engage in his interest in a personal and direct level. Rather than sit at home and draw from pictures, Damien would take trips to the anatomy department of Leeds Medical School when he was only 16 years old. Damien went to get inspired for his life drawings. One of his earlier works inspired by such trips to Leeds Medical School is “With Head Dead” (1991).
One of the reasons why I enjoy Damien’s work is his art speaks to me on a personal level. I have always had a desire to be around things related to death and the anatomy of the body. Throughout my life I have suppressed these passions in fear of being judged. Looking at Damien’s journey with art has caused me to realize that God made all things in the world and it is only our interpretation, perspective and wickedness that makes things, “wrong.” I believe that all things can have a redeeming quality to them without exception. God can clean, perfect and purify every curiosity that one has in a way that will bring Him glory and allow us to engage in the honor that is, furthering His kingdom. We can do this through any field.
Aside from impacting me personally, Damien has impacted the world. I believe he has made positive contributions in that he inspires others greatly with his artistic attempts to “reconcile the idea of death in life.” Damien’s art rips of the morose stigma that one often associates with death. Death is something eminent, inescapable and necessary. Yet it is often ignored. I believe that Damien is a brave artists embracing death and depicting his art in such a way that those who gaze at it can do the same. He makes death less frightening and empowers death by giving it a familiarity that allows us to welcome it back into our life.
Damien once said, “You can frighten people with death or an idea of their own mortality, or it can give them vigor.” I’m happy to say that his work causes the latter in me. I am invigorated.
- Damien Hirst, “We’re Here for a Good Time, not a Long Time,” Interview with Alastair Sooke, The Telegraph, 2011
- Damien Hirst, Hans Ulrich Obrist, “An interview”, “Beyond Belief” (Other Criteria/White Cube, 2008), 30