I was an art assistant for 27 years and a showing artist for 35 .I have been on both sides of the conversation , and I have treated the young artists who work for me based on a reaction to the way that I was treated. the young people who work for you are artists themselves and are trying to show their own artwork and move forward in their career,this is fundamental part of the relationship that the artist should recognize,and if it is dismissed then it is a recipe for disaster , some artists like robert longo credit their assistants when they list their work in the gallery, some artists like Murakami help their assistants get venues for their artwork , while others hide the assistants like a secret , pretending that they themselves made these things by themselves . it is a delicate balance frot with pitfalls and expectations , When I first started to work for ARTIST I did very simple things as he didn't really know if I had the skills needed and also ,the way that ARTIST works ever effort towards making art work should become somehting, working material ,mistakes all become part of the final product,so if I did somehting wrong doing it over would be wasted time, also the way the studio worked everything was hidden from the public so if I had started to learn encaustic Painting then I might take that with me , if I learned how he transferred drawings on to canvas then I might tell others , so Like Vermeer taking apart his light box and hiding the parts around the studio so when visitors came it was gone and only the mystery remained, how far do you let these young artists in to your process, some newer artists have a contract so of a disclosure contract legally spelling out what the assistant can disclose or use in their own art work, we had nothing like this, for the first year I was to do really mundane tasks so that ARTIST could continue to work, shop do the dishes, clean the rooms, after the first year when it was clear I was going to be there a while ,I was starting to learn encaustic (a wax based medium of painting at that time there were very few artist who worked in encaustic and there wasn't very much literature on it, so most of what you learn was thru experimentation now there are several school where you can learn these technics and buy supplies, we made all our own paint and the supplies were raw materials ) it took me several years before I could make medium or prime a canvas by myself. IN the beginning I shared ARTIST'S life I traveled with him to different studios he had a studio in NY city in an old bank building the studio was the main lobby , he kept his paintings and archive in the vaults down downstairs, sometimes we would work in his studio upstate new york and he had a switch on his phone that turned the ringer off , so we would work in the studio for weeks on end living eating together, to take a break during the day we would hunt mushrooms in the woods and he taught me what to look for, but if someone from a museum or gallery came I was to get small fade into the woodwork , not have an opinion, I eventually went to the foundry and approved casts, worked on paintings and lithographs made wash plates because I had become so proficient in the way he worked, sometimes he would take working material I made and simply sign it as his . some times I was lent out to other friends who were struggling or needed help, Annalee Newman ( Barnett Newman's wife) viola Farber, Morton Feldman ,who was going blind) Lois long a mentor to jasper who had gotten old while I didn't mind helping these people it was definitely weird being lent out.
IT is for these reasons that I would tell the young artists who worked for me that I could pay them as a full time job and that if they needed to do anything for themselves they should just tell me and go and do it. sometimes this back fired and my assistant left just before a exhibition ,but I felt it was important for them to take care of themselves. I gave them things that they worked on and showed up at their openings of their art work, the hardest part is thinking of somehting for them to do , or working in front of them as making art work is such a private thing that the self consciousness of working in front of some one is hard to overcome . I didn't think I wanted an assistant , a friend's daughter called out of the blue and asked if she could be my assistant , I said that I didn't really need an assistant , her mother called and asked me to reconsider, which I did and it became one of the best decisions I ever made the people who worked for me had skills I didn't have ,it became part of the way that I worked ,I could lay out something in the morning and they would work on it and could pick up where they left off.now I am back to working by myself ,as it is a very big decision to have someone so far in your life,and it must be a good fit.
The thing that young artist should be aware of is these disclosure agreements, and what they mean to them are they going to learn skill they will never be able to use in their art work, are they being treated with respect for the help that they are providing,also galleries and art dealer are constantly pressuring the art assistants for access information , where you are going to be so they can inadvertently show up there and run into the artist . what are they working so the assistant ,have to run this type of gauntlet. is the assistant seasonal ,are they expected to work full speed ahead during exhibitions 18 hour days until things are finished for the good of the art work. these are all questions young artists should ask themselves
I learned so much that I would never trade,