Damien Hirst’s Ghostwritten Biography Promises to Reveal Criminal Past

Ghostwriter James Fox is consulting other YBAs to fill the gaps in Hirst's memory.

damien-hirst-gagosian-biography
Larry Gagosian and Damien Hirst, afterparty for the opening of Damien Hirst: The Elusive Truth, Lever House, NYC, March 11, 2005. Copyright Patrick McMullan Company.

The Damien Hirst marketing machine is busy building up the hype for the artist’s upcoming autobiography. (artnet News first reported the project’s existence last month.) Despite his current millions, in the tome the superstar artist will be characterized as a “boy from Leeds who took on the art establishment,” according to the Independent.

The book threatens to expose the “filthy money business” of the art world, in which, let’s face it, Hirst is a major player. The formerly Young British Artist will share how his unique work—like his iconic animals preserved in formaldehyde—”changed the rules” and irreversibility altered the relationship between art and money.

Hirst has enlisted seasoned ghostwriter James Fox, who cut his teeth on the autobiography of the Rolling Stones’s Keith Richards. While Fox devoted a full five years to that book, the Hirst project, only recently begun, is scheduled to be published by Viking Penguin and Penguin Press in the fall of 2015. According to Fox, the book will bring to light the “semi-criminal, often violent milieu” in which the artist was raised, revealing the “barely-known first act” of Hirst’s life.

It’s a promise that might prove difficult to make good on, if there’s any truth to Hirst’s bizarre claim that he’s forgotten an entire decade of his life thanks to what the Guardian described as “an excessive exposure to excess.” (The Daily Mail was more to the point, asking if the artist’s “pickled brain” would “sabotage” the project.)

In other words, Hirst was just too damn popular and spent his twenties partying like there was no tomorrow—certainly no tomorrow in which someone would pay him to write a tell-all memoir. Luckily, Fox should be up to the challenge, given that his previous subject, Richards, was similarly inclined to suffer from drug- and alcohol-induced blackouts.

To the end of jogging the artist’s memories of studying at Goldsmiths, University of London in the late 1980s, Fox has been meeting with Hirst’s art school friends, many of whom can be counted among the YBAs. That group, which Hirst helped found, counts Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas, and Mark Wallinger among its members.

Fox spoke to the BBC about the upcoming book, claiming that Hirst and the other YBAs “spent half their time housebreaking, stealing, [indulging in] criminality, and the rest of their time indulging their passion for art, which started very early on in their years.” For the sake of a good story, here’s hoping the other YBAs’ penchant for “excess” wasn’t quite as brain-pickling as Hirst’s.


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