‘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.”
‘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. 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.”