Jake and Dinos Chapman - Biography and Legacy
British Installation Artists
Dinos Chapman - London, Jake Chapman - Cheltenham
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.