From left: Gillian Wearing and Tacita Dean's work from their degree shows. Images courtesy of the artists

Gillian Wearing and Tacita Dean on their art schools

The Phaidon artists remember what they made for their degree shows and why they didn’t expect great success

The Turner Prize winner Gillian Wearing and the photographer, painter and filmmaker Tacita Dean are among Britain’s most successful contemporary artists. Yet in a new article, published in the Guardian, both say that they did not expect much after graduating from university.

The article, which features interviews with such artists as Tracey Emin and David Shrigley, focuses on their final years of higher education. “The [pupils in the] year above me were very exciting,” Wearing, a former Goldsmiths MA student, recalls. “It was Damien Hirst and Michael Landy, and they were all in Freeze. But the first conversation I had when I arrived at art school was that when we left we most likely wouldn’t be artists. I remember saying, if I have one exhibition when I leave I will be happy. That’s all I expected.”


Gillian Wearing
Gillian Wearing

Gillian would go onto win the Turner Prize in 1997 with a show of video works, such as her famous police portrait 60 Minute Silence, yet her 1990 degree show was mainly comprised of ready-mades, including a remake of Marcel Duchamp’s famous Bicycle Wheel.

“The Duchamp piece still relates to my work – the idea of remakes,” the artist told the paper. “You always hope something will come of your degree show, although I didn’t think it was going to. And nothing did. The one thing I remember was that Michael Landy – who wasn’t my partner then – came and said that he really liked the wheel piece.”

Dean, who got a First from Falmouth Art School, had equally lowly career expectations. “You never imagined you would have a career in art,” she said, “or, if you did, your career would be living in a garret in Paris drinking absinthe. “

“I was on the painting course, but I was never really able to make a painting,” Dean explained. “I worked with trashy materials – layout pads, which I’d cover in rabbit-skin glue and gesso. I was developing my own mythology inspired by the Delphic oracle and the Sphinx.”


Tacita Dean
Tacita Dean

The artist, who has since shown at the Tate and the Guggenheim, and who was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1998, didn’t hit the big time immediately. “I think one of my lecturers bought a drawing for £5, and a vagrant man bought a lactating sphinx with huge breasts for £10.”

We wonder if either party still owns those works. For more on both artists, buy our Gillian Wearing monograph and our Tacita Dean monograph here.