Summary of Jake and Dinos Chapman
Known as Les Enfants Terribles of the British art scene, Dinos and Jake Chapman have been working collaboratively to produce deliberately shocking artwork for the last 30 years. After being employed as assistants to Gilbert and George, the pair found fame as part of the Young British Artists in the 1990s. Along with Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst, they were a very significant part of the movement, helping to drive it forward and contributing to its controversial reputation. Working across a range of media, but particularly well-known for their larger installations, their art is full of contradictions; thoughtful investigations of modern issues coexist with puerile humor, sexual obscenity, and graphic violence. In the style of Pop Art, themes are drawn from mass media, but the brothers also acknowledge a debt to artists such as Hieronymus Bosch and Dali as well as the Dada movement.
- Many of the brothers' works have their basis in the art of others, of particular inspiration are the etchings of Goya, which the Chapmans recreated in miniature in Disasters of War (1993) and as a life-size sculpture in Great Deeds Against the Dead (1994). Later, they directly appropriated original artwork, adding to and painting over the etchings of Goya, watercolors by Adolf Hitler, and 18th and 19th century oils.
- The Chapmans are known for their incredible attention to detail and this is most noticeable in their miniature apocalyptic landscapes, Hell (2000) and its later recreation Fucking Hell (2008). In these, the brothers created deeply unsettling works that repel the viewer with their content, but must be appreciated for their craftmanship.
- References to the pervasiveness of brand names, consumerism, and globalization feature in much of the Chapmans's work. Sometimes this is overt as in The Chapman Family Collection (2002), in which Ronald McDonald is presented as an ancient deity, or more subtle such as the inclusion of Nike trainers in many of their sculptural works involving child mannequins.
- Along with other members of the YBAs, the Chapmans's work was often gleefully tasteless and the brothers seemed to set out explore the topics most likely to cause offence, relishing the controversy they created and using it is as a means of self-promotion. This purposeful provocativeness led to accusations of childishness, and worse, that their work was immoral, and even illegal, and shouldn't be on display to the public.
- In a number of their pieces, the brothers have "improved" original works of art by other artists including Adolf Hitler and a range of unknown portrait painters from the 18th and 19th centuries. They also defaced a series of rare prints by Francisco Goya. Their alterations to these works were permanent and in doing this, they committed artistic vandalism, one of the ultimate taboos of the art world. Shocking as these actions are to art historians, the Chapmans have utilized this technique to make comments about violence, the role of art in society, and historical legacy, taking the themes and meanings associated with the original work and inverting or subsuming these into their own ideas.
The Life of Jake and Dinos Chapman
Jake and Dinos Chapmans’s work is not for the feint hearted. When it was displayed in New York, a health warning was displayed on entrance to the room. Then mayor Rudolf Giuliani dismissed it as “sick” and threatened to remove funding from the host museum. The pair’s revolting and shocking hellscapes earned them the nickname “The Brothers Grim.”
Important Art by Jake and Dinos Chapman
Disasters of War
The brothers' first joint work is also their first tribute to Francisco Goya, an artist that they have continued to reference throughout their careers. This piece is a three-dimensional representation of Goya's etchings of the same name made in miniature using toy soldiers. Goya's etchings depicted the atrocities of war experienced during the Napoleonic invasions of his native Spain in 1808 including gruesome scenes of bayonetting, beheading, torture, and death. Goya's work provided such a powerful polemic, that it could not be exhibited in his lifetime
The presentation of the Chapmans' piece both enhances and depletes the original subject matter; reframing the scenes for a modern context and enabling the viewer to look again at a subject that is both shocking and unsettling. The fact that each scene has been recreated in miniature, takes away from the subject's impact, and in doing so references modern day warfare, and the human detachment caused by rolling news footage that can normalize war and human suffering. Aligning the subject with children's toy soldiers also potentially devalues the subject's power, but also reminds the viewer that violence is an understood and ubiquitous part of society.
The Chapman bothers, however, note that they are not making a point about human savagery, rather about art, and its eventual impotency. Picasso turned to Goya for inspiration when he produced Guernica (1937), a powerful piece which responded to the bombing of a Basque country village in northern Spain by German and Italian warplanes. The work is revered now, but had no impact on the course of the Second World War and its resulting 60 million deaths. Art cannot stop violence, the Chapman brothers assert, just as Picasso's Guernica was unable to prevent the horrors of the Second World War.
Plastic, polyester resin, synthetic fibers, wood and guitar strings - Collection of the Tate, United Kingdom
Zygotic Acceleration, Biogenetic, De-Sublimated Libidinal Model
The 1990s saw the Chapman brothers produce a whole series of disturbing human-hybrid monsters by melding naked child mannequins together. In this work their noses and mouths have been replaced with genitalia and they are wearing nothing but Nike trainers; a representation of child consumerism. Zygotic Acceleration seems to be a critique of the inappropriate sexualization of children in the media, as well as alluding to contemporary anxiety with regards to cloning and genetic manipulation. It was also supposed to be funny. Dinos said in 1994: "A child mannequin with a cock on its nose. To take that seriously, you've got to seriously limit your mental faculties. Essentially, the thing that binds everything together is humor - the darkest kind of humor possible. Because that's the way that you defend yourself from the horror". In a similar vein, Jake noted that: "Our work is so gratuitously overburdened that it cancels itself out. There is nothing in it that can be taken seriously in the way that one would take shock seriously. There is nothing that would traumatize in our work. It really only provides the possibility for laughter, if anything".
The work looks back to the Surrealists' fascination with female body parts and mannequins, as well as the use of the readymade seen in Dadaism. Mannequins have traditionally been used by artists as tools from which to observe, but they can also be used to manipulate the emotions or reactions of the viewer. This is evident here as the work places the audience in an uncomfortable position and in doing so challenges the boundaries of taste. Members of the public certainly found the piece shocking and when this work, along with other similar pieces, was first exhibited in London's Victoria Miro gallery, the police were called. The public outcry was exacerbated by the names of other pieces in the series including Fuck Face and Two Faced Cunt. This response only served to highlight the same contradictions that the piece sought to challenge - the mannequins were simply an amalgamation of imagery that was already widely accessible and available to most viewers.
Fiberglass, mannequin, mixed media, wigs and trainers - Collection of the Tate, United Kingdom
Detail from Hell
Consisting of glass cabinets, arranged in the shape of a swastika, Hell featured nine gory and intricate tableaus made from 60,000 toy soldiers. It is what the brothers call "hyper vertiginous violence", an imaginary genocide in which Nazi soldiers are tortured and killed in a huge variety of horrible and disturbing ways in a process orchestrated by skeletons and mutant forms. Whilst the Chapmans's skill as artists is shown in the craftsmanship and labor evident in the piece, the brothers also used this provocative work to make a wider point about the widespread nature of violence. As Jake noted: "We need to have images of ultra-violence in order for us to have a slight clue as to what it is to not be around it... We have to have high feelings of stimulation from the idea of atrocity, death and murder in order to make what we have feel of value. These things are implicit in a society that simultaneously presents that these things aren't implicit. Take Christianity - a religion based on the murder of a deity...This work asks people to look closely at what is taboo".
Norman Rosenthal, art historian and exhibitions secretary of the Royal Academy where the work was displayed, said at the time: "You had to admire how exceptionally well-made it was. This is the central paradox of their work - it focuses on very brutal things but is so beautifully made. Their work is anti-art while playing on its own aesthetics. It's evidence of a very learned, very intelligent strategy... I fell backwards when I saw it - it's spellbinding". The piece was lost in a storage factory fire at the Momart warehouse in London in 2004, along with works by Gillian Ayres, Patrick Caulfield, Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst and Chris Ofili. "When it caught fire, we just laughed. Two years to make, two minutes to burn... It was fantastic - like a work of art still in the process of being made, even as it burnt", Jake said. The brothers remade the work as Fucking Hell in 2008.
Toy soldiers, recast, remade, painted and displayed in glass cabinets - The Saatchi Gallery
The Chapman Family Collection
This installation comprises 34 wooden carvings, placed on plinths and presented in a dark room. They are individually illuminated and set apart from one another, mimicking the style of a Western ethnographic museum. The works were billed as "cultural artifacts from former colonial regions and brought back to Britain by Chapman family members". But as the viewer looks closely, this is soon revealed to be a lie. The pieces, collected from Camgib, Seirf and Ekoc, (Big Mac, fries, and Coke spelt backwards) depict crucified hamburgers and deified images of Ronald McDonald. It is a joke, and an effective one. Dinos Chapman laughed as he observed some French students exploring the gallery: "He said, 'It's just some African shit.' And they all walked out."
The individual works draw on a range of sources, one of the carvings, for instance, mimics Constantin Brancusi's Endless Column (1938), but here it is topped by a red-haired mask of Ronald McDonald. This can be interpreted as a comment on Modernism's appropriation of so-called "primitive'" art. As with all the Chapmans's works, it is full of contradictions and the installation can be interpreted in a number of ways - for example it can be read as a critique of the display of ethnographic items as aesthetic objects rather than pieces imbued with social and historical meaning. In a wider sense it can also be seen as a criticism of colonialism and globalization, although this could be an over-simplification as the brothers have declared that the world is "a shitty place in which capitalism and the production of art are not separated".
When commenting on the work, the pair themselves said they wanted to explore symbols that have become so ubiquitous, people stop seeing them, and used the McDonalds brand to do so. Jake said: "Ronald McDonald started life as something that had emancipatory values - liberating people from cooking and bringing out the higher value of modern life. Then they had to shift from being this absolutely flourescently toxic company to something that they can camouflage themselves by painting themselves green. Is it a liberal discourse about anti globalization? It might be the opposite of that. It might be that we are restoring McDonalds to the righteous origins that they deserve".
Installation - The White Cube Gallery, London
Insult to Injury: the Marriage of Reason and Squalor
In this work, the brothers purchased a rare and complete set of Goya's etchings made from his original plates, The Disasters of War (1810-1820) and "reworked and improved" them by adding clown and puppy heads to each of the victims, painting directly onto the original images. Goya was the first artist of the modern era to depict real terror and torture amongst his human subjects. Art critic Matthew Collings described Goya as the father of modern art, in that he was the "father of shocks". This explains the brothers' fascination with him, as Jake noted, "He's the artist who represents that kind of expressionistic struggle of the Enlightenment with the Ancién Regime. So it's kind of nice to kick its underbelly. Because he has a predilection for violence under the aegis of a moral framework. There's so much pleasure in his work". The brothers' use of Goya's works also grounds them within a canon of avant-garde artists who look back to look forward. Goya himself worked from Velazquez, and Goya's Bacchus (1778) can be seen in the background of Manet's Emile Zola (1868).
Such an appropriation of a known artist's work is nothing new. In 1953, Robert Rauschenberg removed every trace from a crayon, pencil and charcoal sketch to produce Erased de Kooning Drawing. In doing so, he explored how far one could push an object from its origins and still have it retain its power. He took the work of one of his idols and literally erased it in a way that questioned whether art could be created through the act of destruction. With this act, Performance Art was born, and here the Chapmans do the same, reframing Goya's etchings for a contemporary audience. In altering the work of another artist, the brothers are realizing the destructive element that they believe is at the heart of artistic progress. They said: "All works of art are destructive by their nature, because they destroy what precedes them".
The reception of the piece was varied, Brian Sewell, an art critic with a renowned hatred of conceptualism, said the piece was "an absurd work of absolutely no distinction". On the other hand, the work won the Chapmans their first major art prize; the £25,000 Charles Wollaston Award for the most distinguished work in the Royal Academy summer exhibition. The brothers received the accolade with irreverence, with Dinos noting that, "People seemed to be allergic to giving us prizes. Hopefully now we're going to be inundated with prizes. We want to win everything from Crufts [a British dog show] to best rose at the flower show".
Original Goya plates altered with ink - Modern Art Oxford
If Hitler had been a hippy how happy would we be
The original watercolor, painted by Adolf Hitler, shows a picturesque scene of civic architecture and is thought to have been produced in the years between 1908 and 1914 when he tried to forge a career as an artist, with little success. The work has been embellished by the Chapman brothers who added the sun, clouds, and brightly colored sunbeams that fill the sky. This is one of 13 watercolors by Hitler that they treated in this way in a bid to "prettify" them.
In its most obvious reading, this is the Chapman brothers disrespecting Hitler as an artist by destroying his work with the additional of mere doodles, but the piece also plays with the notion of power and history in art. The Chapmans said that in taking their own paintbrushes to the work, they could "erase history"; that examining the work on its own was "very disturbing", but the act of defacing it "subordinated the metaphysical value of its evil". Dinos added: "Some people's argument was that whilst Hitler was making these, he was still a normal human being and that if he had gone to art school, he wouldn't have been this terrible tyrant. And we thought that if we could jump in at that point, and ruin that notion of him, then it is a way of kicking someone where they can't defend themself. We are going to get hold of everything he has ever done and change it, so he won't be rescuable.. The idea of Hitler turning in his grave because we painted rainbows on his pictures is fantastically pleasurable."
Altered watercolor on paper - The White Cube, London
Biography of Jake and Dinos Chapman
Iakovos (Jake) was born in London in 1962 and Konstantinos (Dinos) in Cheltenham four years later. Their father was an English art teacher whilst their mother was a Greek Cypriot. The family then moved to Hastings, Sussex, on England's south coast, where the boys attended a local school. The brothers have been reluctant to talk at any length about their upbringing, but Jake described the "odd characters" that lurked about the seaside town, and "a place on the railway where decapitated bodies would turn up". In a similar vein, Dinos noted that: "growing up in Hastings was bleak, fairly rough. It was like a Playstation game: Avoid the psychiatrics, don't get raped, don't get beaten up, don't drown. It was fun." These early memories of their home town could have had an influence on the gory nature of their work.
Education and Early Training
After leaving school, Dinos studied at the Ravensbourne College of Art (1980-83) and Jake at the North East London Polytechnic (1985-88). The brothers decided to work together in 1988 and enrolled as a pair at London's Royal College of Art, which they described variously as "shit", "a complete waste of time", and "full of people tickling oil paint around". During this time, they also worked as assistants to the British artists Gilbert and George, a role Jake described as having: "absolutely no creative input at all. They were very polite and it was interesting to hear them talking - as we did our daily penance. We colored in their prints. We colored in Gilbert and George's penises for eight hours a day". Jake also worked as a gallery technician for art dealer Victoria Miro.
In 1991 they began collaborating seriously and one of their earliest pieces to receive a good critical reception was Disasters of War a sculptural installation which comprised 83 tiny scenes of torture, drawn from Francisco Goya's paintings. This would mark a lifelong fascination with Goya, an artist whose gory subject matter they returned to in later pieces. They displayed their work in Liverpool, London, Milan, Stockholm and Tokyo, but their careers really took off when they were selected to exhibit alongside the Young British Artists at the Venice Biennale in 1995.
Two years later, their work was included in Charles Saatchi's Sensation show, which brought them to wider attention. The show also featured the work of many infamous YBAs, including Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, and Chris Ofili. It was met with huge controversy due to the Chapmans's work, Zygotic Acceleration, Biogenetic, De-Sublimated Libidinal Model (1995) with replaced the facial features of child mannequins with penises, Marcus Harvey's depiction of the serial killer Myra Hindley, and Chris Ofili's The Holy Virgin Mary which depicted a black Madonna decorated with elephant dung and pornographic images. When the exhibition traveled to New York City in 1999, then Mayor, Rudolf Giuliani branded it "sick stuff" and threatened to withdraw funding from the Brooklyn Museum, which was hosting the show. The show went ahead nonetheless, relishing its notoriety by offering the following warning to visitors: "The contents of this exhibition may cause shock, vomiting, confusion, panic, euphoria and anxiety. If you suffer from high blood pressure, a nervous disorder or palpitations you should consult your doctor before viewing this exhibition".
The Chapmans's macabre, visceral and morally unsettling pieces earned them the title "The Brothers Grim". The pair, however, also shared a sense of humor which they clearly enjoyed exploring through their work. In 1999 they both took a GCSE in art - the national exam taken by 16-year-olds in the UK - entering themselves independently. Jake produced watercolor copies of the best-known pieces of Brit Art, including Damien Hirst's shark. Dinos drew detailed still lifes of skeletons of Siamese twins. They both earned a solid B grade, an episode that they proudly advertised - relishing the fact that, as world renowned artists, they were not awarded the top grade - and using this as a way of questioning the validity of examining art in such a structured manner.
In 2003 the Chapmans held a show at Modern Art Oxford called The Rape of Creativity. At this they displayed a range of pieces including Insult to Injury, a series of original etchings by Goya which they "rectified" by adding clown and puppy heads to all the victims depicted. The pair received a 2003 Turner Prize nomination (Britain's foremost contemporary art award) for their work. Their Turner Prize exhibit included Insult to Injury alongside new works Sex I, a sculpture of decaying and dismembered corpses hanging from a tree and Death, a bronze statue of two sex dolls painted to look like plastic. Although the two were beaten by Grayson Perry, they did win the Charles Wollaston Award for the most distinguished work in the Royal Academy summer exhibition the same year.
In 2004 a warehouse fire in East London destroyed a significant number of modern artworks including pieces by Patrick Heron, Chris Ofili, and Tracey Emin. The Chapmans's apocalyptic landscape, Hell was amongst those lost. They remade the piece as Fucking Hell in 2008. In 2010, they went a step further, recreating Tracey Emin's Everyone I've Ever Slept With, which was also destroyed in the fire. The brothers made an exact replica, which they entitled it The Same Thing, Only Better (2010), raising questions about authorship and authenticity in their trademark humorous way. In doing this, they echoed the work of Marcel Duchamp, with Jake noting that "We are remaking the work, as a way of negating it". Both brothers married in 2004, Jake married model and nutritionist Rosemary Ferguson, they went onto have three children. Dinos married knitwear designer Tiphaine de Lussy and had two daughters but the couple split in 2014.
The Chapmans's destruction of original artwork resurfaced in 2008 when they displayed 13 watercolor canvases, that were actually painted by Hitler, to which they had added rainbows and other colorful motifs. They also displayed a number of 18th and 19th century portraits, part of an ongoing series entitled One Day You Will No Longer be Loved, adding signs of decay directly onto the portraits in a bid to explore contemporary ideas associated with family history and ancestry. In 2011 the brothers produced further works based on Hitler's drawings. In the last few years, the pair have diversified their creative pursuits - Jake writes novels and Dinos is a recording artist. In 2015 they set up an online store known as The Nightmare Before Christmas where consumers could purchase a Chapman Brother's toilet roll for £10. They still work together in their east London studio for now, but have said they are not "joined at the hip" - they will go their separate ways "if things get boring".
The Legacy of Jake and Dinos Chapman
During the 1990s, the Chapman brothers pushed the boundaries of art, redefining what was considered appropriate for display and their work polarized viewers, attracting acclaim and criticism in equal measure. They were part of the first generation of artists to harness the power of the internet in propagating awareness of their work and their ability to manipulate the media was performative in its own right. They consciously sought to shock the public and spread outrage as a means of bringing wider attention to their pieces and the issues that they tackled.
As key members of the YBAs, the Chapmans helped to usher in a new art movement, a punchy and very British mix of conceptualism and Pop Art which, despite its controversy and shock value, had an impact across the art world. Artists such as Takashi Murakami, Subodh Gupta, and Ai Weiwei have all cited the movement as informing their work. The brothers also influenced artists on an individual level, their work The Chapman Family Collection (2002) inspired spoken word artist Scroobius Pip to write a poem in tribute. He said: "I loved how they were playing a game with people from the get-go... Their irreverence appealed hugely - it gives a greater impact". Seattle-based artist Christopher Boffoli has credited the Chapman brothers as inspiring his use of tiny figurines, "to get people thinking and talking about issues such as North American overconsumption". Their influence can also be seen in the work of Dutch artist Harold de Bree and Australian photographer Ayden Aramze.
Influences and Connections
- Christopher Boffoli
- Harold de Bree
- Ayden Aramze