‘We had a bubbling disdain for each other’: Jake Chapman on splitting from brother Dinos | Art and design


JAke Chapman’s new exhibit is called Me, Myself and Eye, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that he himself was at the door. This pop-up show is, he says, just a small taste of a huge amount of work he’s been putting in recently. And it’s appetizing, if like me you appreciate the grotesque, comic, crazy art that he has been creating since the 1990s with his brother Dinos. But why me, myself and no Dinos? The response is so unexpected that I have to change my plan to just rewatch his show and start recording his lyrics.

I assumed it was just a side project in the careers of Jake and Dinos Chapman, an artistic partnership that seemed as close and enduring as that of Gilbert and George and Jane and Louise Wilson. But no. Turns out it’s the end. The split. The brothers who made a name for themselves playing the twisted court jesters of Britain’s young artist generation had a falling out and parted ways.

“Nothing about our practice was friendly,” Chapman says with no sign of regret. “It was never a love-in. It was always tinged with a certain bubbling disdain for each other, so I guess at some point it hit critical mass, and we we decided to separate.

Punchy and powerful… a phallic wooden stand suspended with fetish objects and burning incense sticks. Photography: Jake Chapman. Photo by: Anika Jamieson-Cook

They got fed up with the partnership and had no more new ideas together, he admits. He also suspects that the collaboration may have become too comfortable, anyway. The “disdain” for siblings that he and his brother have always felt ignited their creative partnership: “The reason we worked together was because it made it discursive and difficult. When Dinos and I worked together in the beginning, it worked out of dysfunctions rather than convergences.

Over time, you settle into your mutual roles and “some sort of breakup was needed.” When I suggest there was a playful, childish fun to their collaboration, he assures me that “it’s a rather bucolic, rose-tinted vision.”

He crosses the street to telephone while I contemplate his new works, which mark “my solo departure at the great age of 55!

Guess what. They are surprisingly similar to the art he once made with his brother. Each work here is undoubtedly a Chapman/Chapmans piece. Around the walls are banners with smiley faces proclaiming EXTINCTION/ANNIHILATION in a twist on the art of climate protest that turns it into millennial prophecy. They form a suitably uncomfortable backdrop for crudely carved wooden statues that mix Pinocchio noses, echoes of Ronald McDonald, traditional Central African sculptures and German Expressionist carvings to amorally hilarious, unmistakably Chapmanesque effect. There is a phallic wooden rack hanging with fetish objects and burning incense sticks – the other reason the artist goes outside is to get away from its smell.

It’s a hard-hitting and powerful reminder of the caustic Chapman aesthetic. Cheerful bad taste is everywhere. Some might accuse him of appropriating African art, but this is a deliberate provocation, part of a mad carnival of imagery that includes a prehistoric fertility figure and Adam and Eve. All of this suggests a 21st century neo-rural quest for the primary source of art, or life, while suggesting a dystopia of smiling idiocy. Jake Chapman recently published a novel called 2+2=5 which reorients George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four for the age of mindfulness. This exhibition could be the illustration. Banners can be warnings or threats, climate protests or calls for mass suicide. We need a bit of wickedness in our art and it’s clear that Chapman is far from lacking in bloody, evil energy. Turns out he can have just as much fun on his own as he does with Dinos.

It is, however, the continuity of Chapman(s), full of echoes of their infamous career. The apocalyptic atmosphere – Jake thinks the incense smoke in front of the “very Apocalypse Now” nihilistic banners – is reminiscent of their masterpiece Hell, a spookily detailed and spectacularly obscene model railroad landscape with legions of torturing Nazi figurines among lovingly molded landscape details. . Hell was the centerpiece of a turn-of-the-millennium show called Apocalypse at the Royal Academy, and even won praise from Brian Sewell for its mesmerizing pictorialism – before the original was destroyed in the fire of the Saatchi Collection warehouse in 2004. Jake’s ridiculous statues here echo their 2002 installation Works from the Chapman Family Collection, which disguised ethnographic museums. On the walls are prints riffing on Goya, an obsession that dates back to 2003 when they added clown noses and other jokes to a real set of the Spanish master’s Disasters of War.

It’s nostalgic, but also disconcerting. How is it a solo show? It’s like Jake claiming the Chapman brand as his own and retrospectively writing their careers as his own. It is true that he has always been the theoretician of the duo. Even in our conversation today, he peppers his conversation with references to Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault and asserts that the purpose of working with his brother has always been to question the nature of the artistic self: “The collaboration was a way of deflecting the idea that an artist has something to do with identity and subjectivity.

Bloody, evil energy… Jake Chapman.
Colonel Kurtz of the Cotswolds… Jake Chapman. Photography: Jake Chapman

Today, he argues, the art world is full of people expressing their supposedly authentic selves and lived experiences: he calls this mood a “burgeoning subjective conservative neo-radicalism” while refusing to name names. He thinks the best way to poke fun at the return of Humanist Expressionism that his generation rejected might be as a solo artist himself: “It really, really feels like a kind of paleo-conservative throwback to me. Criticizing this from the perspective of some sort of singularity makes more sense. It seems even more fun to work alone now.

And he actually dove into solitary creativity deep in the countryside. Before the pandemic, he left London for the Cotswolds, where he makes these new works. His new home is “excruciatingly beautiful and idyllic” and there was “a danger that it might have a positive effect on my work, but obviously,” he says, with a smug look around the show, “well at the opposite”. In fact, he considers himself “Colonel Kurtz of the Cotswolds”.

One thing he insists on is that he and Dinos have always been “serious”. Their job wasn’t really a kid’s joke. It was true of Hell and it is true of new art, which has a rustic air, even militant for the climate and yet much meaner, more pessimistic. It’s a light throwback, pop-up entertainment to launch his solo career, but as always in the best work from him and his brother, there’s truth and bite here. Our time is both comical and apocalyptic – how else can you describe a time when we lead normal lives while Russian TV shows openly fume about the nuclear attack on the British Isles? This show captures that hysteria. The Chapmans are dead: long live the Chapman.

“I carved wood in confinement,” says Jake Chapman, proudly showing off the pasta necklace on his carved wooden statue. “I thought at one point that I should become one of those wood-carving trust fund kids. I could show them off in a trailer by the side of the road and sit there like one of those hippies sculpting mushrooms all year round. It could come to that, you never know.


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