What It’s Like to Paint Spots for Damien Hirst


As we’ve discussed in this space before, just because someone is famous for a particular artwork doesn’t mean that they actually made the piece in question. While outsourcing the process can be part of the art’s conceit, more often than not it seems to be about making money with minimal effort. To wit, The Guardian has a fascinating roundup of first accounts from the people behind some of Britain’s best known art, including a painter of Damien Hirst’s infamous spots.

“Painting spots was very dull,” says Rachel Swainston, who worked with Hirst back in the ’90s before becoming an upholsterer. “There’s not a lot you can say about them. The canvases would arrive; they’d be stretched and pinned. Damien would specify spot size and we would mark them up and draw them. Then we’d have a massive delivery of household paints, which we’d mix into smaller pots of whatever colors we needed. We’d have hundreds of colors: no two were ever the same. A six-foot square canvas with spots four inches apart would take about a week. Every painting was sold.”

“Damien didn’t need to have much input,” she continues. “Most of the time, there were two of us, although it would depend on how quickly he wanted them churned out. We were just the small fry. I came out of Goldsmiths [University] thinking I can’t do anything, so I did these… Lots of the Old Masters had people doing things for them. Damien created the idea; we just did the manufacturing. It would have been nice to have been credited in some way. We didn’t feel he was particularly grateful, but it’s quite a nice thing to be able to say you have done. Whenever my kids do a project on famous artists at school, they always do Damien Hirst.”

Kind of depressing, right? Head over to The Guardian’s website to meet a former stonecarver for Anish Kapoor, the man who makes Tracey Emin’s neon works, and a bunch of other unknown artisans behind some very famous works of art.