Damien Hirst discusses early days of career at Goldsmiths

Damien Hirst Pic: Gazanfarulla Khan

Damien Hirst Pic: Gazanfarulla Khan

Internationally renowned artist and former Goldsmiths student, Damien Hirst, has returned to Goldsmiths to discuss the early stages of his career.

Known for his attention-grabbing artwork, Hirst has shocked the art world with his diamond encrusted dead baby’s skull, pickled sheep and dissected sharks.

After gaining notoriety for floating dead animals in liquid formaldehyde, Hirst said, “I just wanted to find out where the boundaries were but I’ve found out there aren’t any.”

On his return to Goldsmiths, Hirst reminisces about his advent onto the British art scene in the 90s.

After two years of working on London building sites, Goldsmiths initially rejected the Leeds-born artist before he eventually started his Fine Art degree at Goldsmiths in 1986.

Talking to Goldlink, Hirst recalls the early days of his art career: “When I left my foundation course I didn’t know what to do … I moved down to London with some friends and that was when I worked out that really I only wanted to go to Goldsmiths.”

As soon as I arrived at Goldsmiths I knew it was where I needed to be. It was absolutely the right place; there was nowhere else I could have gone where I could have done what I wanted to do.”

After scraping a grade E at Art A-Level and a troublesome experience at foundation level, Hirst says he surprised himself.

Once I got to Goldsmiths I was taken much more seriously. It was really different to anywhere else – they just said “you’re artists, you’re not students – get on with it”. They didn’t push you around; if you wanted a tutorial, you had to ask for one. It was up to you.”

During his time in New Cross, Hirst was coached by Emeritus Professor of Fine Art, Michael Craig-Martin, a key founder of the Brit Art movement.

Hirst recounts this experience: “I thought the tutors were absolutely so cool and brilliant. You’d bump into Julian Opie and Lisa Milroy through Michael (Craig-Martin) and you thought, “Oh my god, it’s a real connection to the art world … They were great times.”

Hirst first developed the forceful entrepreneurial spirit, which he is now notorious for, in his second year at Goldsmiths in 1988. As an inexperienced student, he managed to bypass established art structures and curate the widely acclaimed ‘Freeze’ exhibition on a shoestring budget. By curating the work of his fellow artists, Hirst secured his own success and launched the careers of a whole generation of young British artists.

Despite the fact, a derelict block on London’s Docklands seemed an unlikely location for exhibition; this small independent student exhibition became a landmark moment for the British art scene. Hirst managed to gain sponsorship from the London Docklands Development Corporation and ‘Freeze’ exhibition was visited by Charles Saatchi, Nicholas Serota and Norman Rosenthal.

Hirst recalls the inspiration for his now legendary exhibition: “There was that pressure from Goldsmiths college – good pressure – saying ‘you need an audience’, Don’t wait for one; don’t put your paintings in the corner of the studio and wait for someone to buy them when you’re dead.”

He elaborates: “Being in art school empowers you to do your own thing.”

Since graduating from Goldsmiths two and a half decades ago, in 1989, Hirst has gone on to achieve unimaginable success. The world-renowned artist has been involved in a vast range of projects, from curating exhibitions to making music, directing films and building restaurants.

In recent weeks, Hirst revisited the Goldsmiths campus: “You know when I went in I couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t been back for about 23 years. I went into the canteen and it was identical. I mean, obviously the table had changed but everything was in the same place. A kid in the corridor came up to me and said, “I’ve just been studying you”. And I was like (gulps). It was so freaky. So weird.”

Hirst is now considered the wealthiest artist to date, with an estimated value of £215 million, he reached number 238 on the Sunday Times Rich List. In addition to this, he broke the record for a one-artist auction with his exhibition ‘Beautiful Inside My Head Forever’.

Since Lewisham first propelled Hirst onto the British art scene, Hirst’s art career has also been marked by a series of controversies. From allegations of plagiarism to conflict with Charles Saatchi to his controversial decision to rebuke his art dealers, Hirst’s career choices have repeatedly dominated the headlines.



  1. antmanbee January 8, 2014
  2. Terry Kirby January 8, 2014

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