With Dead Head, 1999



With Dead Head
1076 x 668 x 75 mm | 42.4 x 26.3 x 3 in
Gelatin silver print
Image: Photographed by Prudence Cuming Associates © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2013


Group Exhibition - 2013
Museum of National Taipei University of Education (MoNTUE), Taipei, Taiwan


‘With Dead Head’ is a photograph, dating from 1981, sealed onto aluminium. The image shows a teenage Hirst with a severed head, pictured in the Leeds anatomy school he regularly visited to make life drawings.

Hirst has described the formative experience of seeing dead bodies as a teenager: ‘When I was really young, I wanted to know about death and I went to the morgue and I got these bodies and I felt sick and I thought I was going to die and it was awful. And I went back and I went back and I drew them. And the point where death starts and life stops, for me, in my mind, before I saw them, was there. And then when I’d seen them and I’d dealt with them for a while, it was over there again. It’s like I was holding them. And they were just dead bodies. Death was moved a bit further away.”[1] 

‘With Dead Head’ is an expression of the difficulties inherent in attempting to understand our own mortality, and in dealing with the “unacceptable idea” of death.[2] Hirst explains: “To me, the smile and everything seemed to sum up this problem between life and death. It was such a ridiculous way of being at the point of trying to come to terms with it, especially being sixteen [...] This is life and this is death.”[3]

[1] Damien Hirst cited in Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn, ‘On the Way to Work’ (Faber and Faber, 2001), 36

[2] ibid., 22

[3] ibid., 35