Young British Artists: Blood and Formaldehyde

Today we are going to come across several British artists of a great significance. And, no, we aren’t talking about The Beatles. However, the group we are interested in can be compared to the iconic music band in the sense of scandals and rebellious spirit. Ladies and Gentlemen, we present you Young British Artists, or simply the YBAs.

The movement took its place in the late 80s, and arguably evolved into an important phase in the history of British Art. Artists involved in the movement were mostly graduates from Goldsmiths College of Art. One of the primary influences was a shift from the traditional separation of different medias into sculpture, painting, prints, etc. The YBAs practices are marked with the openness to the new approaches and materials, as well as with liking of a controversial topics. They even have been accused of the extensive use of the “shocking” content in their works. YBAs are also famous for the usage of the found objects and everyday materials. Although the list of artists associated with the movement is quite vast, we will be getting to know the most influential stars of this show. 

Tracey Emin

Tracey Emin is most famous for her feminist believes embraced in many of the artworks. She includes autobiographical details and even objects into her oeuvre, making candid confessions and analyzing the concept of private vs. public. Emin works with numerous of medias including installations, neon text, drawing, sculptures, photography and sewn appliqué. 

Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995 represents the list of people Emin has ever shared a bed with. It starts from her family members, goes on to friends and then, lovers. Viewers can actually enter this tent and intervene artist’s history and memories. It is literally “an inside” on this particular aspect of Tracy Emin’s private life. 


Tracey Emin took her actual bed and turned it into a highly intimate installation featuring such controversial parts as used condoms, stained bed-sheets, and personal hygiene items. Emin was going through emotional crisis and stayed in her room, in a bed for a period of time. She embraced that moment of her life in this installation. 

Damian Hirst

Hirst is one of the leader artists of the YBAs. Basically, the whole group made an establishing statement at the Freeze exhibition, organized mainly by Damian Hirst. He is acknowledged as a richest living artist, and has an international fame. His most famous artworks consist of various dead animals preserved in the formaldehyde. Hirst’s oeuvre is concentrated around the society’s perception of death, the nature of love and hate, and other fundamental existential questions. The titles of his works usually describe the concept behind his art pieces. 

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living is no exception. This artwork was reportedly sold for $8 millions and caused quite a sensation. Especially after the body of a shark started to deteriorate due to the poor preservation. 


Hirst’s yet another provocative work serves as a reminder of human’s mortality. It is a sculpture made after the 18th century skull encrusted with 8,601diamonds and… human teeth.

For the Love of God costed £14 million to produce. Huge media interest occurred around the sale of this artwork. Hirst claimed that he had sold the skull for the record sum of £50 million, which would have been considered as the highest amount ever paid for the artwork by a living artists.  But the speculations around the sale aroused many questions concerning whether Hirst did sell it, or it was just another handmade sensation. 


  Being introduced to the two leading artists of the YBAs, we can make some conclusions about their activities. This group emerged at a very unstable worldwide social period, and we can tell that they have been quite oppositional, yet aimed at the commercial success. By using the controversial content and topics, they have freed numerous layers of discussions, that were not exactly around the world of art before. Almost intimate topics and fundamental questions of existence were brought into the spotlight with a brutal honesty and scandalous wrap. It was a real breakthrough in the terms of the widening the perception of art styles and materials used. YBAs showed that in the contemporary age of information, multidisciplinary approach can open new doors and present art in an unexpected, but quite relevant forms. And a little mass-media sensation now and then never hurt anybody. 

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