There are nearly 1,400 of Damien Hirst’s “spot” paintings in existence.
The artist has only painted around 25 of them himself.
So who made the other 1,340 or so paintings, which regularly sell for tens of thousands of dollars?
They were done by Hirst’s coterie of assistants — a well-known fact. Even so, he told Reuters last year that “every single spot painting contains my eye, my hand, and my heart.”
And they all contain his signature.
Damien Hirst was once the art world’s golden boy. His conceptual art was snapped up for millions by art collectors, showcased in museums, and taught in art history classes.
But he has also been lambasted by famous critics like Roberts Hughes, who once said of Hirst’s famous shark suspended in a tank of formaldehyde: “One might as well get excited about seeing a dead halibut on a slab.”
And for many, his art has become a symbol of selling out, with concepts that either shock or disgust and only appeal to rich art collectors with questionable taste.
But the real reason Hirst is such a sore spot for many in the art community is that he doesn’t physically create most of his own work.
His $78 million diamond-encrusted skull was made by royal jewellers Bentley & Skinner. The artist’s stuffed shark was produced by MDM Props of London, a theatrical company. And his famous spot paintings were, of course, painted by his assistants.
Why? Because he couldn’t be bothered to do the work himself.
Hirst once said he didn’t paint his own spot paintings because, “I couldn’t be f***ing arsed doing it,” according to The Guardian.
He’s even gone so far as to recommend his assistants’ work over his own: “The best person who ever painted spots for me was Rachel [Howard]. She’s brilliant. Absolutely f***ing brilliant. The best spot painting you can have by me is one painted by Rachel,” he once said, according to Artlog.
As one story goes, one of Hirst’s assistants asked the artist for a spot painting. Hirst told her to “make one of your own,” he wrote in the book On The Way To Work. When she said she wanted one made by him, he responded, “But the only difference, between one painted by her and one of mine, is the money.'”
Hirst sees the real creative act as the conception, not the execution, of art. As the progenitor of the idea, he is therefore the artist.
Of course, he’s not the only artist who feels this way. Andy Warhol had a factory. Mr. Brainwash has a factory. Jeff Koons has a team of assistants, too. Virtually all of these men admit to little talent and a bunch of ideas.
But no one is quite as annoying about it as Hirst. “I can’t wait to get into a position to make really bad art and get away with it,” he told The Times UK in 2003. “At the moment if I did certain things people would look at it, consider it and then say ‘f off’. But after a while you can get away with things.”
Since 2009, a third of Hirst’s works have failed to sell at auction, and those that have been sold were for 30% less than in 2008.
Turns out, you can only “get away with things” for so long.
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