‘It was hard labour by any measure,” says Jake Chapman, recalling his and brother Dinos’s apprenticeship as assistants to Gilbert and George. “There was absolutely no creative input at all. They were very polite and it was interesting to hear them talking – as we did our daily penance.”
What did the work involve? “Colouring in their prints. We coloured in Gilbert and George’s penises for eight hours a day.” At least you didn’t have to pay, as Rembrandt’s assistants did, for the privilege of working in the master’s studio. “Oh, we paid,” retorts Chapman. “We paid in dignity.”
The relationship between artist and artist’s assistant is vexed, ripe for oedipal tensions, mutual resentments, or at least spitting in the great master’s lapsang souchong. How tired, one suspects, Lucian Freud’s assistant (and painter in his own right) David Dawson, got of being called “Dave the Slave” by his late master.