Visual art has been one of the most common mediums around the world since humans began to express themselves creatively. Over time, painting, sculpting, photography, and other forms have evolved through countless phases and movements. The overall intentions of artists have basically remained the same: to express themselves and present something for their audience to interpret. Today, being a master of visual art can lead to a very large paycheck. Check out the net worth of some of the top artists in the business.
Damien Hirst – $1 Billion
English artist, entrepreneur, and art collector Damien Hirst is one of the most esteemed members of the Young British Artists, a group that highly influenced the UK art scene during the ’90s. An internationally respected painter, he is now considered to be the richest living artist in the United Kingdom. The 2010 Sunday Times Rich List estimates his value to be around £215 million.
Hirst’s work tends to focus on death as a primary theme. One of his best-known pieces is The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, which is a 14-foot tiger shark immersed in a clear case of formaldehyde.
Jeff Koons – $500 Million
Born in 1955, Jeff Koons is an American artist whose work has shocked the world on numerous occasions. He is highly recognized in the art community for nearly bankrupting art dealer and curator Jeffery Deitch with his large-scale “Celebration” series in the 1990s. Koons is best known for his whimsical reproductions of objects, such as balloon animals created with stainless steel and mirror finishes.
In 2013, Koons’ Balloon Dog (Orange) sold at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale in New York City for $58.4 million. The piece became the most expensive work by a living artist sold at auction, until he broke the record again in 2019.
Jasper Johns – $300 Million
Jasper Johns is an American painter, printmaker, and sculptor. His work is most commonly associated with pop art, abstract expressionism, and the Neo-Dada movement. Johns frequently depicts American-related topics in his work, especially the U.S. flag.
It is not unusual for his works to sell for millions of dollars at auction, with sales reaching $110 million in 2010 alone. Additionally, he received the National Medal of Arts in 1990 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011, with The New York Times calling him the “foremost living artist” in the country.
David Choe – $200 Million
Besides being a widely-respected street artist and graphic novelist, David Choe also co-hosts a popular podcast with adult film star Asa Akira. His work features themes like desire and ecstasy, as well as humiliation and shame. He’s closely associated with a bucktoothed whale, an image that’s been prominent in his work since he was a teenager.
By some accounts, Choe’s net worth is somewhere around $200 million. He’s actively involved with many charities and foundations and is known to donate many of his works for good causes.
Andrew Vicari – $142 Million
Vicari is a Welsh painter who started off his career painting portraits for prominent individuals. At one point, he was even the official painter of the King and Government of Saudi Arabia. Although he is relatively unknown in Whales, he currently works in France and in 2004 was Britain’s richest living painter and the 18th richest person in Britain.
In 2001, he sold 125 paintings to Prince Khaled (younger full brother of the crown prince Mohammad bin Salman) for about $27 million, making his works well known in the Middle East. There are museums completely dedicated to Vicari’s work.
Takashi Murakami – $100 Million
A Japanese contemporary artist, Takashi Murakami works in fine arts mediums such as painting sculpture, as well as the more commercial endeavors of fashion, merchandising, and animation. He coined the term “super flats” to describe his own art style which he derives from the aesthetic characteristics of Japanese tradition and post-war Japanese culture and society.
He has a large number of employees who work on his many projects and has authored books such as Geijutsu Kigyoron, Geijutsu Tosoron, and Superflat. He is also president of Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. where he manages young artists as well as founded the biannual art fair Geisai.
Sir Anish Mikhail Kapoor – $85 Million
Although born in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), Anish Kapoor is a British sculptor. He has lived and worked in London since the early 1970s when he attended art school at the Hornsey College of Art and later the Chelsea School of Art and Design.
A few of his most notable sculptures include Cloud Gate or “The Bean” in Chicago’s Millennium Park and Sky Mirror exhibited at the Rockefeller in New York and later in Kensington Gardens in London. He was knighted in 2013, was awarded an honorary doctors degree by the University of Oxford in 2013, and has received many other accolades throughout the years.
Antony Gormley – $50 Million
Sir Antony Mark David Gormley is a British sculptor whose best-known public works include Angel of the North in Gateshead North England, Another Place near Liverpool, and Event Horizon, which has been featured around the world. Although he’s created many more pieces, he’s recognized for these in particular.
In 2008, he was ranked No. 4 on The Daily Telegraph’s “100 most powerful people in British culture.” He has gone on to win the Turner Prize and is a Royal Academician, along with winning several other honorary titles and awards. He lives with his wife, whom he has three children with.
Gerhard Richter – $40 Million
Gerhard Richter is a German visual artist known for working with a wide variety of mediums including abstract and photorealistic paintings, photographs, and glasswork. In 2012, his piece Abstraktes Bild set an auction record for a painting by a living artist for $34 million.
It wasn’t long until he broke his own record in 2013 when his work Domplatz, Mailand was sold for $37.1 million in New York. Then, in 2015, he proceeded to break his past two records when his Abstraktes Bild sold again, but this time for $44.52 million. He lives in Cologne, and was ranked #220 of the richest 1,001 people in Germany.
David Hockney – $40 Million
Born in 1937, David Hockney is an English painter, printmaker, draftsman, stage designer, and photographer. As a massive influence during the pop art movement in the 1960s, he is been regarded as one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century.
He lives back and forth between Bridlington, London, and his two residences in California in the Hollywood Hills and Malibu. In November 2018, his 1972 painting Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) sold at auction and broke the world record for a living artist. It sold for an amazing $90 million.
Cindy Sherman – $35 Million
Film director and photographer Cindy Sherman began painting in 1972 when she enrolled in the visual arts department at Buffalo State College. Today, she’s held in high regard for her conceptual portraits as well as her Complete Untitled Film Stills, a series of 69 black-and-white photographs which attempted to overturn stereotypes about women.
During the 1980s, she returned to color film, honing her focus on lighting and facial expressions. She has also worked closely with fashion brands, makeup companies, and magazines to create high-end commercial collaborations.
Richard Prince – $30 Million
Richard Prince is an American painter and photographer. When he started in the field in the mid-1970s, his main focus was on creating drawings and collages — an endeavor that he no longer associates with. He then rephotographing other artists’ work in 1977 and in 2005 his photo of a piece by Sam Ambell, titled Untitled (Cowboy), was his first creation to sell for over $1 million.
One of his most well-known series, Jokes, focuses on the sexual fantasies and frustrations of white, middle-class America. The New York Times regards him as “one of the most revered artists of his generation.” In 2008 Prince’s painting called Overseas Nurse sold for a whopping $8,452,000 at Sotheby’s in London.
Jeff Koons’ ‘Rabbit’ Breaks Record
In May of 2019, Jeff Koons broke his own record when his stainless steel sculpture titled Rabbit sold at auction for an unbelievable $91.1 million after fees. This figure surpassed the record set by David Hockney in November of 2018. Rabbit was inspired by an inflatable toy.
Christie’s initially estimated that the sculpture would fetch between $50 and $70 million. The winning bid of $80 million was submitted by Robert E. Mnuchin, an art dealer who also happens to be the father of U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Andreas Gursky – $29 Million
Currently a professor at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, Andreas Gursky is a German photographer widely known for his large color photographs of architecture and landscapes. One of his trademark style points is his use of a high point of view.
This point of view helps create the illusion that the spaces are larger than the real-life subjects. Gursky has broken many records, such as the highest price at auction for a single photographic image. One of his most famous pieces, Rhein II, sold for $4,338,500 in 2011.
Chuck Close – $25 Million
Photorealist Chuck Close is famous for his paintings and photography. He achieved success in his work as a photorealist by using massive-scale portraits, many of which feature his friends and loved ones. He creates these enormous portraits by using an extremely large format camera. Aside from his photorealism work, he is also known for his abstract portraits.
Despite a health crisis in 1988 which left him paralyzed, Close continues to create art that is in high demand by museums and collectors alike. He’s involved in many fundraising and community service projects.
Banksy – $20 Million
Perhaps one of the most recognizable contemporary artists on our list, Banksy is the anonymous England-based street artist. Although some people refer to him as a vandal, his works are packed with satire, dark humor, and social commentary. They often seem to spring up in a guerilla warfare manner all over the world and without warning.
He tends to display his art on public surfaces although he has always managed to avoid getting caught. Banksy’s work has come to revered by art collectors and enthusiasts. In 2018, one of his paintings was sold at auction for £1.04m. However, once the gavel dropped, the painting began to self-shred, which only raised its value.
Georg Baselitz – $20 Million
Originally born Hans-Georg Kern, Georg Baselitz is a German painter, graphic artist, and sculptor. In the 1960s he first gained recognition for his figurative and expressive paintings. Today one of his work’s defining features are the inverted subjects he paints.
Although he has his own distinct style, he was also heavily influenced by his experiences growing up during the horrors of World War II. He is also influenced by Soviet-era illustration art, the Mannerist period, and African sculptures. As he’s been painting for 50+ years and sculpting for 30, Baselitz has amassed quite a fortune with his art.
Shepard Fairey – $15 Million
Shepard Fairey is a graphic designer, street artist, illustrator, and activist. He’s also well known as the founder of Obey Clothing. While attending the Rhode Island School of Design, he created what is known as the “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” (OBEY) sticker which brought him a lot of attention.
His career then exploded during the 2008 U.S. presidential election for the creation of the now-iconic Barack Obama “Hope” poster. Fairey was described by the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, as one of the best known and most influential street artists of modern times.
John Currin – $11 Million
Influenced by a wide variety of styles and movements, American-based painter John Currin creates provocative and satirical art. He’s known for his exaggerations of the nude female body, although he says that these works are reflections of himself rather than depictions of real people.
Currin was taught by a traditionally-trained Russian painter when he was a teenager, and his other influences include the Renaissance, modern fashion models, pop culture magazines, and Danish pornography. Of his inclusion of porn in his art, Currin has said, “one motive of mine is to see if I could make this clearly debased and unbeautiful thing become beautiful in a painting.”
Mr. Brainwash – $10 Million
Mr. Brainwash, or MBW, is the moniker used by French-born, Los Angeles-based artist Thierry Guetta. In the 2000s he documented street artists, including Banksy, and decided to pursue art himself after Banksy suggested he give it a try.
MBW’s style appears to emulate other famous street artists, leading some to assume that he’s part of a massive Banksy prank, although it has been denied. Mr. Brainwash has held several exhibits and was even tasked with designing the cover art for Madonna’s 2009 album Celebration.
Retna – $5 Million
Born Marquis Lewis, Retna is a contemporary artist who is recognized for his graffiti art and calligraphy. He began his art career in Los Angeles in the early 1990s. He created his own writing script which is a combination of Hebrew, Arabic, Blackletter, and Egyptian Hieroglyphics. He’s skilled at other types of traditional street graffiti as well.
Retna has held gallery shows all across the globe in addition to extensive advertising work for brands such as Louis Vuitton, VisaJet, and Nike. His artwork was also used on the cover of Justin Beiber’s 2015 album Purpose and he’s been commissioned by Usher to paint murals.