Damien Hirst: Anatomical Representation

This is going to be the first installment of the new Anatomy in Art Series on Street Anatomy. I’ll be showcasing artists who use anatomy as an art form rather than for educational purposes. Sometimes we need a fresh look at anatomy. Those in the medical professions come into contact with medical images everyday and they become common. The artists in this series use anatomy as a part of their art and by doing so draw our attention to it once again.

Let’s start off with the internationally renowned British artist, Damien Hirst. At 41 years old, he’s managed to stir up controversy and push art to the point where we begin to question,  “what constitutes art?” But, he’s become a millionaire many times over for it so why should he care. Hirst has always been rebellious. As a child he got in trouble and the only subject he did well in was art. Surprising then is the fact that he was initially rejected from two art colleges in England.

If you don’t know his name then you might know some of his most famous pieces from his Natural History series, in which dead cows, sheep and even a 14ft tiger shark are preserved in huge glass containers filled with formaldehyde.

Damien Hirst
And his dots.

Interesting note. The young artist had a placement at a mortuary as a student, which probably influenced his fascination with life and death, a theme throughout his work.

There are three major anatomically related pieces that Hirst conceived. I say conceived because Hirst often has a team of people working on his art projects. He still takes all credit as he believes that it’s the conception of the idea that makes him the artist. Of course, it’s easy being an artist when you can pay people to do the work for you.

The works are the Virgin Mother, Hymn, and Resurrection.


The Virgin Mother is 35ft tall, took a year and a half to build, and is one of the biggest bronze statues in the world.


Hymn is 20ft tall and also made out of bronze. Hirst sold Hymn to the art collector and gallery owner, Charles Saatchi, for £1 million. The toy manufacturer, Humbrol, later sued Hirst because Hymn is an exact replica of their 14″ Young Scientist Anatomy Set designed by Roman Emms.

Resurrection is simply a skeleton suspended in a crucifixion pose by two panes of glass. It was the centerpiece of the first art exhibition being staged in Iran by the British Council since the Islamic revolution of 1979.

Hirst says that everyday objects can be harmless and insignificant, but as soon as you take that object out of context and create new meaning, it can become powerful. He uses the example of a shoe. A shoe is an everyday object, but if a man uses a shoe to beat his wife, it suddenly becomes something else, a weapon. Hirst says, “The change of function is what’s frightening. That’s what art is.” Is this what he is accomplishing by blowing up anatomical figures to absurd proportions? Is it giving new meaning to anatomy? Is it making us face death on a massive scale? Mmm, probably not. Make anything huge and it looks impressive. Make it a huge anatomical model and I’ll love it.


12 thoughts on “Damien Hirst: Anatomical Representation”

  1. butindo-mbaalya eddie

    Damien’s ‘Virgin Mother’ and other recent works always stir up interesting debate about the dynamics of viewing art in public spaces as opposed to museum. I love this and its the critical point. He is a great inspiration to me in my research and attitude to life and social effects of these public monuments.

    BM-EMP

  2. “Of course, it’s easy being an artist when you can pay people to do the work for you.”

    No artist that works at large scale or is prolific in any way does all the work on their art. I did all the work on my own sculptures up until last year, but the pace was literally killing me. Do you think Anish Kapoor’s piece called Cloud Gate (aka, “The Bean”) in Chicago would be any better had he built the 110-ton sculpture all by himself, spending his entire life on it?

    The Mona Lisa’s background wasn’t painted by the artist. Almost EVERY single bronze you’ll ever see of any decent skill was made by a foundry, a team of artisans.

    Yes, the idea is the most critical part. And if it was easier, more people would be as rich and famous as Hirst.

  3. Damien Hirsts dots painting Valium – is based on a algorithm by Robert Dixon, a computer graphics artist and former research associate at the Royal College of Art. It’s a mathematical model inspired by the study of a daisy. here’s the link. This was an issue way back in 2003. here’s the excerpt:
    “Last year Robert Dixon, a graphics artist, said that Hirst’s print Valium bore unmistakable similarities to one of his circular designs on page 74 of The Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Geometry, published in 1991.

    He claimed that when he initially contacted Hirst in 2003 he was taken aback by the e-mail response from the artist’s manager. Apparently unaware of Mr Dixon’s involvement with it, the manager said that Hirst had drawn inspiration from a book given to him by a friend – The Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Geometry.

    Mr Dixon told The Times: “So Hirst’s manager wrote back to say the drawing was ‘nothing to do with you’, not realising that it was.” ”

    here’s the link: http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/visual_arts/article1991133.ece

    starts four paragraphs up from “Inspired”, bottom of the article.

  4. Wow – The Virgin Mother is amazing!

    Glad to have stumbled across your blog – it’s quite interesting!

  5. darmok –> I didn’t read anywhere that there is any significance to the dots. Hirst actually doesn’t even paint the dots himself, he has assistants do it for him. I also read that the shark in the tank is starting to deteriorate. I saw it in 2003 at the Saatchi Gallery in London and I had noticed that it was already starting to deteriorate then, so I can’t even imagine what shape it’s in now. But, it’s still worth millions.

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