An estimated 60 percent of the world's worst oil paintings are spun out within Dafen's 1.5 square miles. Last year, the local art factories exported paintings worth US$36 million.
Thousands of artists who have converged on Dafen’s many art factories, where they each paint up to 30 replicas during a 16-hour day. Dafen’s output is sold in places such as Wal-Mart, which recently commissioned 50,000 copies made in China. London’s Fulham Palace mounted a show of such canvases this year to call attention to “a shocking form of sweatshop labour.”
The fastest of the thousands -- no one knows how many -- workers here, who paint more Van Gogh's in a month than he did in his lifetime (about 800), can crank out 30 a day, said Shi Fei, an artist, gallery owner and art assembly line factory honcho who employs 12 "students" who earn anywhere from US$25 to US$50 a month plus room and board for their art assembly line skills.
But Shi, who went to art school and got his start making copy paintings in Guangzhou, isn't particularly impressed with Van Gogh, though he sells about 20,000 faux 'Goghs a year.
"Everyone thinks Van Gogh was a great artist but a great artist should be rich," he said with a smug grin. "If he couldn't make a living as an artist he wasn't a great artist." But, Shi admitted, "He would be very sad, I think, if he could see this. He should be happy, though, because he can help so many Chinese people make a living."
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