Hirst's art? A child really could do it
James Kitt could not believe his eyes when colours exploded on the whirling turntable before him as he sprayed paint over it.
By his side was Damien Hirst, the erstwhile enfant terrible of the Young British Artist movement.
"That's Star Wars!" gasped the 13-year-old, as Mr Hirst unpinned the "spin painting" from the turntable and gave it to an assistant to dry out. "I never thought that I would ever be able to do anything like that. This is really excellent."
James's black and red masterpiece was just one of more than 200 that Mr Hirst helped pupils to produce during a day at Oakwood high, Salford, Manchester, an area associated more with pickled eggs than pickled sharks.
Mr Hirst and a team of assistants from his company Science worked for six hours to ensure that all 173 pupils at the school for children with moderate learning difficulties would have a spin painting to go home with, stamped on the back with the artist's name.
He stopped only to join the children in the school canteen for bangers and mash.
Two turntables were set up in the main hall of the school. Within minutes they were spinning water-daubed paper as the pupils queued up to make their instant masterpieces.
Signed, original spin paintings by Mr Hirst have been bought for up to Pounds 75,000.
Mr Hirst, who recently become a father for the third time, said: "I like kids. I hope to show them that art is fun. If there is something that is so easy and it makes you happy, that is great."
For Lucy Ludbrooke, the artist's visit was the high point of her 16th birthday. As she finished her red-dominated spin-painting, she said: "I liked it. I knew that man was a famous artist because I saw it on a leaflet, but I don't know who he is." None of the Oakwood pupils did, but several were sneaking up to him for autographs later.
Not all were impressed. David Eden, 14, did a painting. He said: "I think this is rubbish - anyone can do it. How can anyone get famous from spinning paint?"
The beauty of the whole event, for the Oakwood high staff, was seeing even the most challenging pupils managing to achieve. The smiles, especially of those who cannot speak, said it all as they squirted bright patterns on the spinning paper. One boy flung his arms round one of Mr Hirst's assistants with joy.
The artist, notorious for displaying a shark in a tank and calling it "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living", was also enjoying himself. As he dived in to help struggling pupils, he said: "If any of them do one better than I do, I mess them up."
His visit came about through his friendship with Bernard Sumner, singer in the band New Order, a Salford local and friend of the school. Last Friday the school was treated to a 70-minute New Order concert. But on this occasion it was the staff rather than pupils who were most excited.
Steve Heeley, the art teacher, has already converted one of the school's potter's wheels into a painting machine. "We will look into Damien's background and perhaps move on to try some of his spot paintings," he said.
All pupils take art throughout the school. Last year 70 per cent of Year 11 took the subject at GCSE. All 20 passed, one with a B grade. One former pupil is studying for an art degree at Salford university.
Janis Triska, the headteacher, aims to give the pupils at Oakwood rich cultural activities similar to those experienced by her son at Manchester grammar, one of the city's private schools. Arts professionals are regular visitors to the school and Mr Hirst has promised to come back.
Big picture, Teacher 16