Along with David Hockney, he is Yorkshire’s most famous living artist and now Damien Hirst is coming back home in a major new festival of sculpture.
Wander around Yorkshire long enough and you’ll stumble across a Henry Moore. The granddaddy of sculpture, who spent the early years of his life in Castleford, is everywhere. His works can be found at stately homes, taking centre stage in public squares and alongside Barbara Hepworth he unsurprisingly has a large presence at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
Damien Hirst though is a little harder to find. The Turner Prize winner’s spot paintings occasionally find their way into a commercial gallery, but if you want to see the Leeds-born artist’s most famous works – we’re thinking formaldehyde cows and diamond encrusted skulls – you have to head south to London.
However, that wrong is about to be righted with seven of Hirst’s major works arriving in Yorkshire as part of the inaugural Yorkshire Sculpture International. Two of the works,
including a giant anatomical model of a male torso, will go on display in Leeds city centre, a third Black Sheep with Golden Horns (one of those iconic formaldehyde tank installations) will be in Leeds Art Gallery, while the final four works will find a temporary new home at the YSP near Wakefield.
It’s a bit of a coup for the North and as he approaches his mid-50s Hirst admits it’s a poignant reminder of where his own first steps into the artworld were taken.
He said: “When I was growing up in the city, the Leeds Art Gallery was my way into art. I never thought I’d ever be famous or considered important or anything like that, but seeing paintings by people like John Hoyland, Francis Bacon, Peter Blake and Eduardo Paolozzi – alongside the aquarium and natural history stuff in the City Museum – opened my mind to art.
“The things I saw made me so excited for what art could be. If people feel anything like that when they see my work, then that’s the greatest thing you can hope for as an artist, and it’s a double excitement for me that there’ll be sculptures in the town as well as the gallery.
“The giant bronze sculptures which will be at YSP are where they belong – they’re just made for that setting. I used to hang out a lot on Ilkley Moor and Otley Chevin, and I will always love the Yorkshire landscape.”
YSI is a grand undertaking. Linking Leeds Art Gallery and the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds with The Hepworth Wakefield and Yorkshire Sculpture Park the event will span 100 days and while Hirst will be the major draw, it will also feature work by 15 other international artists.
Key among them will be New York-based Huma Bhabha, who has been commissioned to create a new work for Wakefield city centre and Ayse Erkmen whose response to an iconic piece of Leeds architecture is being kept under wraps until the event opens.
“We wanted this first event to show the scale of our ambition,” says Jane Bhoyroo, who was a curator at Leeds Art Gallery before landing the job as YSI producer. “We haven’t had hugely long to turn it around and being able to bring these key works by Damien Hirst to Yorkshire is testament to the hard work and vision of everyone involved.
“Sculpture invites people to get up close to art and I hope that when people see the outdoor works it will encourage them to go into one of the four galleries and see what else is going on.
“What’s really lovely about this event is that as well as bringing international names to Yorkshire we are also able to support emerging artists. Five artists working in Yorkshire have been given £7,500 to develop work which will be exhibited as part of the festival.
“Every event, every exhibition will be free.
We want to reach out to as many people as possible and this first festival will hopefully be just the start.”
Yorkshire Sculpture International June 22nd to September 29th. yorkshire-sculpture.org.