Calls for Damien Hirst to be freeman of Leeds EXCLUSIVE

Damien Hirst with his work The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living.
Damien Hirst with his work The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living.
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Leeds is being urged to recognise one of its famous sons – internationally-renowned artist Damien Hirst – by making him an honorary freeman of the city.

And there are also calls for a Damien Hirst gallery to be built in Leeds to cement the city’s reputation as an arts centre and boost its economy by attracting more visitors.

Hirst, 46, was brought up in Leeds and attended Allerton Grange High School before studying at Leeds College of Art.

He then attended Goldsmiths in London and was at the forefront of a group of new British artists emerging in the 1990s.

His breakthrough works were a selection of animals preserved in formaldehyde – notably, in 1992, a 14ft-long glass case containing a shark.

Leading the calls for Hirst to be honoured is Dr Jeffrey Sherwin, an honorary alderman of Leeds and former leisure services committee chairman who was instrumental in the development of the Henry Moore extension to Leeds City Art Gallery.

He said: “Damien Hirst may be considered England’s most controversial artist, possibly the richest but, undeniably, he is the most famous of any contemporary British artists – and he is a Leeds lad and proud of it.

“He was not only brought up in Leeds but he recognises that it was Leeds that helped to form the basis of his art through his time at the Jacob Kramer College of Art and his trips to Leeds Art Gallery, where he saw contemporary art for the first time.

“He is proud of his connection with Leeds and we too should be proud of that connection and recognise it.”

Noting the success of the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield and Salford’s Lowry Centre, Dr Sherwin said a Hirst gallery could provide Leeds with a similar boost and added: “The city and Damien would need to work together but if it were to happen, thousands of tourists would beat a path to Leeds.”

Fabian Hamilton MP (Lab, Leeds North West) said: “I shall look at everything I can do to help promote this. I intend to contact my fellow Leeds MPs to see how this idea can be moved forward. Hirst is a child of Leeds and we should celebrate that.”

Mr Hamilton is to discuss the proposal with Coun Keith Wakefield, council leader.

Honorary freemen of Leeds include writer Alan Bennett, Leeds Piano Competition founder Dame Fanny Waterman, Nelson Mandela and former Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey.