10 British Artists to Know: Their Life & Work Guide
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. Banksy: Unmasking the Street Art Phenomenon
  2. Damien Hirst: From Pickled Sharks to Spot Paintings
  3. Tracey Emin: Confessional Art Pioneer
  4. David Hockney: The Art of Seeing Differently
  5. Lucian Freud: The Power of the Human Body
  6. Bridget Riley: The Queen of Op Art
  7. Yinka Shonibare: Exploring Cultural Identity
  8. Chris Ofili: Pushing Boundaries with Elephant Dung
  9. Jenny Saville: Reimagining the Female Form
  10. Grayson Perry: Art, Identity and Social Commentary

Grab a cup of tea and get cozy as we take a journey together through the lives and works of ten outstanding British artists. From the elusive street artist Banksy to the bold and boundary-pushing Chris Ofili, this guide is your express ticket to understanding the impact these artists have made, not just in the British art scene, but globally. So, are you ready to get to know these British artists a little better? Let's dive in!

Banksy: Unmasking the Street Art Phenomenon

First on our list is Banksy, a name that has become synonymous with street art worldwide. Banksy's identity remains a well-guarded secret, but his art—public and audacious—cuts through the silence, speaking volumes about societal issues. His work is often politically charged, satirical, and packed full of dark humor.

Let's take a look at some of his most notable works:

  • "Girl with Balloon": This piece, showing a young girl losing her heart-shaped balloon, became a symbol of lost innocence and the fragility of peace. It's a poignant reminder of the fleeting moments in life.
  • "Rage, Flower Thrower": A powerful image of a protester caught mid-throw, but instead of a Molotov cocktail, a bouquet of flowers takes its place. The artwork has become a beacon of peaceful protest against violence.
  • "Dismaland": In 2015, Banksy created a sinister twist on Disneyland, a dystopian theme park that satirized the happiest place on Earth. It was a powerful critique of consumer culture and the hollow pursuit of happiness.

Through his work, Banksy challenges us to question our surroundings, to look beyond the surface and see the underlying issues that often go unnoticed. He might not be the most conventional of British artists, but his influence on the art world—and the world at large—is undeniable. His ability to make us think while also making us laugh is a testament to his skill and wit, and a reason why he's a British artist you should definitely know.

Damien Hirst: From Pickled Sharks to Spot Paintings

Next up, we have Damien Hirst, a British artist whose name might ring a bell. Known for his audacious and often controversial works, Hirst does not shy away from pushing the boundaries of what constitutes art.

Let's explore some of his most famous works:

  • "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living": Quite a mouthful, isn't it? But this artwork is as mind-boggling as its title. Hirst famously pickled a shark in a tank of formaldehyde, creating a piece that forced viewers to confront the reality of death.
  • "For the Love of God": This piece is a platinum cast of a human skull encrusted with 8,601 diamonds. It's a startling piece of art that plays with the concepts of life, death, and luxury.
  • Spot Paintings: A far cry from his more shocking works, Hirst's spot paintings are simply rows of colored circles. This series is a reflection on the fundamental elements of visual art: color, form, and simplicity.

From provoking reactions through his bold and sometimes shocking pieces, to exploring the fundamentals of art, Hirst's work has had a profound impact on contemporary art. His audacious approach pushes us to reconsider what we define as art, making him a British artist worth knowing.

As we continue to explore the work of these remarkable British artists, remember that art isn't just about creating something beautiful. It's about making us think, feel, and question. So, who's next on our artistic adventure?

Tracey Emin: Confessional Art Pioneer

Tracey Emin is another British artist who's known for her raw and emotional artworks. Emin's work is often autobiographical, pulling directly from her own personal experiences. Her approach to art is incredibly intimate, inviting viewers into her world.

Here are a few pieces that showcase Emin's unique style:

  • "My Bed": In this installation, Emin presents her own unmade, messy bed, surrounded by personal items like empty bottles and cigarette packets. This piece is a deeply personal exploration of her life, capturing a moment of vulnerability and emotional turmoil.
  • "Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995": This tent artwork, embroidered with names, is not just about sexual partners, but everyone Emin had ever shared a bed with. It's a powerful piece that showcases Emin's confessional approach to art.

Tracey Emin's work has been pivotal in broadening the horizons of contemporary art, making her a significant figure among British artists. Her openness to share intimate details of her life through her artwork is not only brave, but it also challenges the traditional boundaries of art.

Next up, we're turning our attention to an artist who sees the world through a very different lens. Can you guess who it might be? Stay tuned!

David Hockney: The Art of Seeing Differently

David Hockney, one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century, has a knack for seeing — and showing us — the world in a unique way. His work is a celebration of color and light that challenges our perception of everyday scenes.

Here's a glimpse into some of his remarkable pieces:

  • "A Bigger Splash": This painting captures the instant after a dive into a pool. Hockney's use of vibrant colors and his attention to the details in the splash are vivid and almost surreal.
  • "Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy": This portrait of designer Ossie Clark, his wife, and their cat Percy is a testament to Hockney's ability to capture the essence of his subjects. The bright light flooding from the window adds an extra layer of depth to the painting.

Hockney's work encourages us to see beauty in the mundane and to find joy in the world around us. His ability to reinterpret everyday scenes and capture them in a unique light sets him apart among British artists.

Let's now move forward to another artist who's known for his keen observation and compelling representation of the human form. Can you guess who's next on our list? Don't go anywhere!

Lucian Freud: The Power of the Human Body

Let's turn our attention to Lucian Freud, another remarkable British artist, known for his unflinching portraits of the human body. Freud's raw and honest portrayal of his subjects has earned him a spot amongst the most important figurative painters of the 20th century.

Here are a couple of his most striking works:

  • "Benefits Supervisor Sleeping": This painting is a perfect example of Freud's approach. He presents the human body as it is, without any romanticism or idealization. The woman in the painting, Sue Tilley, is shown sleeping on a worn-out sofa, her body shown in all its reality.
  • "Reflection with Two Children": In this painting, Freud paints himself in the mirror, with two children looking on. This piece reveals Freud's ability to capture the complexity of human relationships and emotions, all with a few strokes of the brush.

Freud's art is a reminder that beauty lies in the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it might be. His stark and captivating portraits have, without a doubt, left a significant mark on the world of British artists.

Ready for another deep dive into the world of British art? Keep reading, because you're in for a treat!

Bridget Riley: The Queen of Op Art

Have you ever seen a painting that seemed to move before your eyes? If so, you might have stumbled upon an Op Art piece. And when we talk about Op Art, we can't help but mention Bridget Riley, one of the leading British artists in this intriguing style.

Bridget Riley's work is all about creating illusions of movement using simple geometric shapes. Her masterful manipulation of lines and colors can make static images appear to vibrate, pulsate, or even swirl. But don't just take my word for it, let's explore some of her most iconic pieces:

  • "Movement in Squares": As the name suggests, this artwork is all about movement. Riley cleverly uses a series of black and white squares to create an illusion of a tunnel that seems to recede into the canvas.
  • "Blaze": In this piece, Riley uses concentric circles to create a spinning motion. The alternating black and white lines create a visual experience that's almost hypnotic.

Bridget Riley's unique style has made her one of the most influential figures in Op Art. Her ability to trick the eye and engage the viewer's perception has left a lasting impact in the realm of British artists. So next time you see an artwork that seems to dance before your eyes, you'll know who might have inspired it!

Yinka Shonibare: Exploring Cultural Identity

Now, let's turn our attention to another outstanding British artist, Yinka Shonibare. Shonibare's work is like a fascinating puzzle that invites us to unravel layers of meaning. His art is a vibrant exploration of cultural identity, colonialism, and the complex ways these elements intersect.

One of Shonibare's signature moves is using brightly colored African batik fabric to create stunning sculptures and installations. But here's the catch: this fabric is actually produced by the Dutch and sold across West Africa. Shonibare uses this material to question ideas of cultural authenticity and the effects of colonialism.

  • "Nelson's Ship in a Bottle": This is one of Shonibare's most famous works. It's a replica of Admiral Nelson's ship, but with sails made from African batik fabric. It offers a powerful commentary on Britain's multicultural history.
  • "The Swing (After Fragonard)": In this piece, Shonibare reimagines a classic Rococo painting. The woman on the swing wears a dress made from African fabric, adding a twist to the traditional European scene.

Yinka Shonibare's art is a thought-provoking conversation about cultural identity. The unique way he blends British and African influences sets him apart in the world of British artists. So, if you're ever in the mood for some colorful and meaningful art, Shonibare's work is definitely worth a look!

Chris Ofili: Pushing Boundaries with Elephant Dung

When you think about materials used in art, you might think of oil paints, watercolors, or clay. But what about elephant dung? Sounds strange, right? But Chris Ofili, another British artist, isn't afraid to push boundaries and challenge our perceptions of what art can be.

Ofili's work often incorporates elephant dung, which he uses as a symbol of his African heritage. His paintings are a rich tapestry of color, texture, and cultural symbolism, often touching on themes of race, religion, and identity.

  • "The Holy Virgin Mary": This painting caused quite a stir! It's a black Virgin Mary surrounded by cut-outs from pornographic magazines and elephant dung. Controversial as it may be, it's a bold exploration of religious iconography and cultural identity.
  • "No Woman, No Cry": In this poignant painting, Ofili portrays a black woman crying. Each tear contains an image depicting a tragic event in British history. The woman's dress, adorned with elephant dung, is a tribute to her strength and resilience.

Art is a way to express, question, and challenge our view of the world. Chris Ofili's work does exactly this. His unconventional use of materials and provocative themes make him a standout among British artists. And remember, art is subjective — even if it involves elephant dung!

Jenny Saville: Reimagining the Female Form

When you think about portraits, you probably think of delicate, idealized images. However, British artist Jenny Saville shakes things up by showcasing the beauty of the human body in all its raw, unfiltered glory.

Saville's paintings are larger than life — literally. They often depict women in a scale that's impossible to ignore, highlighting every line, every curve, and every imperfection. Her work serves as a powerful commentary on society's unrealistic beauty standards.

  • "Plan": This painting features a nude woman from an unusual perspective, with lines marking potential sites for cosmetic surgery. Saville is asking us to question why society pressures women to change their bodies.
  • "Propped": Here, a gigantic nude woman stares down at the viewer, challenging traditional views of female beauty. The painting sold for a record-breaking price, cementing Saville's place among British artists.

So next time you're looking at a portrait, remember Jenny Saville. Her work reminds us that art doesn't have to conform to society's standards — it can question them, challenge them, and ultimately, change them.

Grayson Perry: Art, Identity and Social Commentary

Art can be a way to express oneself, and no one does this better than Grayson Perry, one of the most distinctive British artists of our time. Perry’s work is as colorful and intricate as his personality, with his pieces often exploring identities, both personal and societal.

Perry is best known for his stunning ceramics. At first glance, they may look like traditional vases, but look closer and you'll see a world of stories waiting to be told.

  • "A Map of Days": This artwork isn't a vase but a self-portrait. It's a map, with Perry’s identity at the center. Streets, buildings, and other landmarks represent different aspects of his personality.
  • "In Its Familiarity, Golden": This pot explores Perry's experiences as a transvestite, featuring photographs of him in women's clothing. It's a powerful statement about identity and acceptance.

Art is a mirror that reflects our society back to us, and Grayson Perry uses this mirror to make us question what we think we know. So here's to Perry — a truly unique British artist who isn't afraid to challenge our perceptions.

If you enjoyed learning about the lives and works of British artists in this blog post and want to dive deeper into the world of contemporary art, check out the workshop 'Meet the Multi-Faceted Artist' by Debbie Knox-Hewson. This workshop will provide you with valuable insights into the many roles an artist can undertake and help you better understand the diverse nature of the art world.