Our next Artists You Need To Know are Jake and Dinos Chapman who are known as the Chapman Brothers.
Arguably as infamous as they are famous, “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.” (from The Art Story)
The Chapman Brothers have embraced this role as provocateurs, with an energy and humour that makes their works alternately affronting and highly amusing. In their words: “If you look at the genealogy of our work beginning with the first Goya prints we used, we got the book, we chopped it up, then we got the little soldiers and we chopped them up. It’s art as a creative and a destructive act, but, in our case, it’s definitely more destructive.”
In response to one of their exhibitions in the city of New York, “a health warning was displayed on entrance to the room. Then mayor [and sometime female impersonator] 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.”
Iakovos “Jake” Chapman (born 1966) and Konstantinos “Dinos” Chapman (born 1962) are from London, UK. They are the children of an English art teacher and an orthodox Greek Cypriot: Dinos studied at the Ravensbourne College of Art (1980–83), Jake at the North East London Polytechnic (1985–88) before both together enrolled at the Royal College of Art (1988–90), when they also worked as assistants to the artists Gilbert and George.
The aesthetics – or, according to some critics, the irreverence for the same – of Gilbert and George surely helped shape the Chapmans’ ideas and approach to their own art practice. The Chapman Brothers are quite erudite about their work, and it’s fitting to pepper this piece with their own incisive observations – not just about their work, but the larger reactions to it: “The more shitty, nasty, transgressive the art is, the more it kind of defines the centrifugal tolerance of a liberal society. So there’s no crackdown on transgressive art, there’s encouragement of it.” This might seem self aggrandizing, until you consider, for example, that the Chapmans can draw (no pun intended) a straight line between their works and Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes’ (known as Goya) series The Disasters of War, which they have sampled and reconfigured for contemporary times, while updating – or preserving – its essential horror….
Significant exhibitions of their work include the Young British Artists (YBA) showcase exhibitions Brilliant! and Sensation. They were nominated for the annual Turner Prize in 2003 but lost out to Grayson Perry.
The Chapman Brothers have exhibited widely and internationally, in both solo shows and with their works being included in larger group presentations. Notable showings have been mounted at the Institute of Contemporary Art (London, UK), The Stedelijk Museum (Hertogenbosch, Netherlands), Museum of Contemporary Art Krakow (Krakow, Poland), Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (Washington, D.C., USA), Serpentine Sackler Gallery (London, UK). TATE Britain (UK), SongEun ArtSpace (South Korea), MOMA (NYC), The Hermitage (St. Petersburg, Russia), and Galerie Gabriel Rolt ( Amsterdam, Netherlands).
A more complete listing of their exhibitions – with links out to documentation of the same – can be found here.
Many of their shows offer titles that are as provocative as the artworks themselves, such as The Blind Leading The Blind (Galerie Rudolfinum, Prague), In the Realm of the Senseless (Artur, Istanbul, Turkey), To Live and Think Like Pigs (UTA Artist Space, Los Angeles, USA) or SHITROSPECTIVE (Contemporary Fine Arts Galerie, Berlin).
The Chapman Brothers have – of course – been accused of intentionally selecting subject matter that tries to be deliberately shocking: in 2008, they produced a series of works that appropriated original watercolours by Adolf Hitler under the title of If Hitler Had Been a Hippy How Happy Would We Be (several of which we’ve included below) .
Below are a selection of images from their installation / sculptural work Detail from Hell, which was originally made in 2000 but was re made by the brothers in 2008 as Fucking Hell.
“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.” (from here)
Several of the videos that we’ve provided links for, at the end of this essay, feature different incarnations of this seminal work. As this is an overwhelming work, rife with details and could be described as the opus of the Chapman Brothers, we’re providing many details of the different incarnations of Detail from Hell and Fucking Hell.
The term ‘iconoclast’ seems too weak a word for the works of the Chapman Brothers, and they enjoy this classification: “If you know that the middle classes, or middle England, are going to crap themselves because they’ve just seen a mannequin with a cock on its face, doesn’t mean it’s shocking. It means that those people have a very poor set of responses, which you can use.” (Dinos Chapman)
In 2022, the Chapman Brothers announced that they had ended their partnership as the main focus of their artistic endeavours: this coincided with Jake Chapman’s solo show Me, Myself and Eye. Jake Chapman made reference to a mutual “seething disdain” and told the Guardian they were both “sick of the partnership” and were “no longer having fresh ideas together.” This Chapman brother has also published a number of catalogue essays and pieces of art criticism in his own right, as well as a book, Meatphysics (Creation Books, 2003).
Many of the works created by the Chapman Brothers’ are installations, or three dimensional environments with multiple facets and nuances. In light of this, we’re sharing a number of videos of their exhibitions, to offer a more complete sense of their art and aesthetic.
Several videos that give a more appropriate sense of their art can be seen from the White Cube Gallery, David Risley Gallery, in Copenhagen, Fucking Hell (2008) , VernissageTV and zczfilms, to accompany an exhibition at Serpentine Galleries in London, UK.
Their site can be found here, and it offers numerous links to further explore their prolific practice. There is no shortage of information about the art and ideas – and the controversial impact – of the Chapman Brothers to be found online. This page from the TATE offers a number of articles and images.