Hirst has three assistants working solely on the butterfly pictures - he's Britain's biggest importer.
Waldemar Januszczak went to visit Hirst's new studio in Lambeth in March 2005, and found him rotating assistants on his new photo-realistic paintings to ensure that the authorial hand remains identifiably his, rather than theirs':
The new painting studio is the size of a large parish church. Though perhaps taller. Stuck to the walls in a ring, as if by centrifugal force, is an assortment of boiler-suited assistants, carefully dabbing away. That's photorealism for you. It can't be done from a distance. Damien's in a boiler suit too, and takes a bit of spotting. He looks well. A couple of pounds heavier, perhaps. Lots more polar-bear hair in the barnet. But he's still on the wagon, and it is still giving him energy to burn. Usually I would let him gabble at me for a while before turning to his art, because Damien is such an entertaining gabbler. But I simply cannot believe what I see when I enter, and brush past him to take a closer look. Of all the things that this gore-splattered chameleon could have become, becoming a photorealist is perhaps the least likely. [...]
Damien explains how it works. First he identifies a photograph that he wants to re-create. Then he gets his people to phone up and get permission to use it, while never revealing it's for Damien Hirst. [...] The teams of assistants do most of the bread-and-butter copying — "If it was me I'd paint it monochrome and stick a fag packet in the middle" — and Damien patrols the results, jazzing up this and that: a dab here, a daub there. He's just been working on the blood pouring down from a football hooligan's face and takes me over to inspect his handiwork. He's been adding glazes. Making it look more bloody.
Don't the assistants get upset when he dabs about with their paintings? Doesn't he sometimes spoil what's there? All the time, he giggles, proudly, but they are not their paintings, they're his. And to ensure this is clear, he swaps the assistants around from picture to picture so nobody is ever responsible for the whole thing. Smart strategy.
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