ESSAY: Jake & Dinos Chapman's 'Etchasketchathon' (series) 2005
Brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman came to prominence in the mid 1990s alongside their so-called ‘YBA’ (Young British Artist) peers Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Sam Taylor-Wood. Since that time this group of artists has collaborated on a provocative and influential body of work that interrogates our standards of morality and taste, while also questioning the social role and value of art.
An underlying philosophy for the Chapman brothers has been their disavowal of the idea that art emerges from unique and original creative thoughts. Instead they regard their art practice as situated within an ongoing process of exchange with existing images found in both contemporary and historical visual culture. In their appropriately titled 2003 exhibition at Oxford’s Museum of Modern Art, ‘The Rape of Creativity’, the artists sought to explore this process through their now infamous reworking of Francisco de Goya’s Disasters of war portfolio of 1810–20. Having acquired a pristine set of the renowned print portfolio three years earlier, the artists set about ‘rectifying’ the originals by drawing and painting directly over Goya’s work. The artist had long been an important influence for the Chapman brothers but, in this work titled Insult to injury, Goya was forced into the position of unwitting collaborator.
The artists’ use of the term ‘rectifying’ to describe their intervention in Goya’s work is significant in so far that it intimates a correction while also alluding very specifically to Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining 1980; in the film, as Jake Chapman has described, the butler encourages Jack Nicholson’s character ‘to kill his family — to rectify the situation’. The violence in this work is palpable — both in terms of the scenes depicted by Goya and the Chapmans’s ‘rectifications’. Unlike an act of appropriation, where an artist makes reference to another artist’s work by quoting its content or style, the Chapman brothers engage directly with existing works and suggest a violent, tangible and visceral engagement with pre-existing imagery.
This strategy of reworking found images has continued in the Chapman brothers’ practice, most notably in works that take children’s colouring books as a point of departure. Children are perhaps the pre-eminent vehicle through which the Western world expresses its social anxieties concerning sexuality, morality and responsibility — anxieties that the Chapman brothers seek to confront head-on in their work. Etchasketchathon, which derives its title from the popular children’s drawing toy of the 1980s, ‘rectifies’ idyllic childhood scenes by transforming them into nightmarish visions populated by smiling children, dismembered bodies and rotting flesh. At once hilarious and terrifying, Etchasketchathon plays on the gap between adult society’s idealised vision of the child and children’s own lived experience. While the Chapman brothers seek to shock and disturb viewers with this work, they also offer droll comment on the myth of childhood purity.