Teenage graffiti artist accused of stealing ‘£500,000 box of pencils’ in feud with Damien Hirst
by Caroline Grant
05th September 2009
It might not sound like the crime of the century. But the theft of a box of pencils has reignited a bitter feud in the art world.
The pencils in question are actually worth £500,000 and form part of a £10million Damien Hirst art installation.
They were taken as a prank by a 17-year-old graffiti artist known as Cartrain, who claims he had no idea the ‘Faber Castell dated 1990 Mongol 482 Series’ were in fact rare and worth that amount.
He is currently on bail, and, if convicted, will be responsible for one of the highest value modern art thefts in Britain.
The incident took place in July when Cartrain visited Hirst’s Pharmacy exhibit at Tate Britain in Central London.
He apparently used the opportunity to take revenge on Hirst, who had reported Cartrain to the Design and Artists Copyright Society after he created a number of collages based on Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skull, For The Love Of God.
The online gallery selling the collages eventually surrendered the artwork and Cartrain was ordered to pay back the £200 profits he had made.
Having apparently swiped the pencils, Cartrain then made a ‘wanted’ poster, which read: ‘For the safe return of Damien Hirst’s pencils I would like my artworks back that DACS and Hirst took off me in November.
‘It’s not a large demand. Hirst has until the end of this month to resolve this or on July 31 the pencils will be sharpened. He has been warned.’
Cartrain said: ‘I went to Tate Britain and by chance had a golden opportunity to borrow a packet of pencils from the Pharmacy exhibit.
‘That same day I made up a fake police appeal poster advertising that the pencils had been removed from the Tate and if anyone had any information they should contact the police.
‘A few weeks later I went out and I returned home to find out that the art and antiques squad from Scotland Yard had called round with a warrant for my arrest.’
He is on bail until September 14.
Police also arrested his 49-year-old father on suspicion of harbouring the pencils, although he was subsequently released.
Cartrain, from Leytonstone, East London, started as a graffiti artist aged 12.
His distinctive ‘tag’ – stylised signature – can be spotted across the capital.
For The Love Of God, which was produced by Hirst in 2007, is a platinum cast of a human skull encrusted with 8,601 diamonds.
It cost more than £14million to make and sold at auction for £50million.
Three weeks after unveiling the sculpture, Hirst himself was accused of plagiarising its design.
John LeKay, a British artist based in New York, claimed he had been making similar jewel-encrusted skulls since 1993.
Hirst said at the time: ‘I hope it makes the people who see it feel good, that it’s uplifting, that it takes your breath away.’
Related links about Damien Hirst