David Hockney and Damien Hirst go head to head with solo London shows

Hockney makes dig at Hirst's use of assistants in notes for Royal Academy exhibition

A small note on the posters for David Hockney's forthcoming exhibition at the Royal Academy contains a sly dig at another superstar artist about to launch a major exhibition. The note reads: "All the works here were made by the artist himself, personally."

In an interview with the Radio Times, Hockney confirmed that he had in mind Damien Hirst, whose £50m diamond and platinum skull will be the centrepiece of a Tate Modern exhibition in April, the first solo show of his work in a UK museum.

Hockney, who at 74 is creating enormous landscape paintings based on the fields and woods of his native Yorkshire, agreed that he had Hirst in his sights, adding a criticism of art schools.

"It's a little insulting to craftsmen," he said. "I used to point out, at art school you can teach the craft; it's the poetry you can't teach. But now they try to teach the poetry and not the craft." He quoted a Chinese proverb that to be a painter "you need the eye, the hand and the heart. Two won't do."

"The other great thing they said – I told this to Lucian Freud – is, 'painting is an old man's art'. I like that."

Like the Hirst exhibition, David Hockney: a Bigger Picture covers decades, though the artist says, firmly: "It's not a retrospective. When they came to me three or four years ago, many of the pieces that are in the exhibition did not exist."

The Hirst show will include pieces made by assistants including the taxidermists who worked on the famous pickled shark – The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living – and the cow and calf, Mother and Child Divided.

Hirst once said he employed assistants to make works such as his scores of spot paintings because "I couldn't be fucking arsed doing it".

The platinum and diamond skull, For the Love of God, became the most expensive modern work sold – albeit to a consortium that included the artist and his White Cube gallery. It was made by the London jeweller Bentley & Skinner, and a proud photograph of it can be seen on the wall in the firm's Piccadilly window.

Despite Hockney's reservations, the practice of artists employing production lines is ancient: as the National Gallery exhibition shows, Leonardo da Vinci used many assistants, some of whom became celebrated artists in their own right. And in the 20th century, artists including Andy Warhol embraced the slick, mass-produced look of multiple copies.

When Hirst has picked up his own paintbrush, the results have not been universally admired. An exhibition at the Wallace Collection in London of paintings inspired by Francis Bacon was hammered by the critics, including the Guardian's Adrian Searle, who called his work "amateurish and adolescent". The pieces will not feature in Hirst's Tate show.


Maev Kennedy

The GuardianTramp

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