Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 24 November 2020

Damien Hirst searches for the right apprentice

Damien Hirst is searching for a new apprentice - strong drawing skills required - but he's far from the first artist to enlist help in creating his work.
Damien Hirst’s recent exhibition of paintings at the Wallace Collection was all his own work.
Damien Hirst’s recent exhibition of paintings at the Wallace Collection was all his own work.

It sounds like something out of a hit reality television show. A public figure blessed with a famously entrepreneurial spirit (and plenty of cash) makes public his desire for an apprentice with the right attitude, skills and commitment to drive his business forward. Except this isn't Lord Sugar, Donald Trump or Mohamed Ali Alabbar. In documents seen by The Daily Mail in the UK, controversial artist Damien Hirst has made it known that he's begun the search for candidates to learn from the best in his studio.

But just in case you're thinking of applying, the role involves more than simply pouring formaldehyde into glass cases - as he famously did with his tiger shark piece The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living - or sticking expensive diamonds on skulls. According to the Daily Mail, Hirst wants someone with "strong drawing and draftsman skills", as well as "colour theory and painting skills". They must be able to "draw images from projection, taking time to make sure the image is square and true" and "paint images provided by and under the supervision of a manager". So if it's been some time since your boss asked you to paint a contemporary artwork, you're probably not going to get hired.

Sadly, the salary isn't quite as impressive as the one the winner of The Apprentice receives, either - for being "committed to working as part of a successful artists' studio", the successful candidate will be renumerated to the tune of just £20,000 (Dh117,000) a year. But it's surprising that the position has come to light at all - for once again it's bound to reignite the debate about how much work purported to be "by" Damien Hirst is actually produced by the Turner Prize-winning artist himself.

The exact answer is not known, but since Hirst once freely admitted that he only painted five of his famous spot paintings himself (there are more than 300) because he simply couldn't be bothered, it's not likely to be much. Of course, nobody is forcing these people to work in Hirst's studios, and indeed, Hirst isn't forcing people to pay millions of dollars for work that might not actually be by his hand.

In any case, artists have always had assistants. If you wanted to be picky about Mark Wallinger's Turner Prize win in 2007, you could say, in fact, that fellow artist Michael Smith should instead have picked up the most prestigious prize in art. The process of creating this award-winning work went something like this: Wallinger took a photo of a protest banner outside parliament in London and decided that he would recreate the banner for his show State Britain. But he then handed over the actual job of producing an exact replica to Smith. Incredibly, in an interview with The Guardian in 2008, Smith said he didn't mind that Wallinger had gathered so much praise for what was called a "lovingly recreated" work. "I'm really comfy with it," he said at the time. "I enjoy making things. It would've probably driven him insane if he'd tried to produce it himself."

Hirst and Wallinger are just the latest in a long line of people who, in a sense, subcontract their ideas to others. The most intriguing part of The National Gallery's excellent Close Examination exhibition last year - which investigated the art world's relationship to forgeries and fakes - was the room in which the work of the Renaissance studios was discussed. Whole stables of young artists were employed to appropriate the style of their celebrated tutor - in fact, becoming an accomplished painter in your own right was impossible without first serving your apprenticeship at the workshop of a great master. Andrea del Verrocchio, for example, is probably better known for the incredible list of pupils (Leonardo da Vinci, Lorenzo di Credi, Sandro Botticelli) who worked on "his" paintings than the work he produced. There are barely any paintings in existence that are solely "by del Verrochio". Later, Peter Paul Rubens became so popular among the courts of Europe, he simply had to employ a whole army of pupils and assistants to complete his commissions.

The tradition of the apprentice working in an artist's studio is, then, a time-honoured one. Andy Warhol's Factory might often be held-up as a key moment in the mass consumption of modern art, but with its workers contributing to a quasi assembly line, it's not so different from Rubens' practices more than 300 years previously.

So, given that the production of great art has always used willing apprentices, Hirst is likely to receive plenty of interest. Drawn any decent coloured spots recently?

Updated: January 26, 2011 04:00 AM

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