Tex Avery once said: “In a cartoon, you can do anything.” That overlying idea has thankfully permeated creators and artists in multiple mediums, and allowed surrealism, Dadaism, conceptualism, and the WWE to flourish and bloom. Pushing the boundaries with your imagination, and taking away the filter of rationality and linear thought can sometimes clear the lens through which we view the world around us, and give more clarity to our vision. The absurd can be a powerful tool in art if used intelligently, while giving the appearance of being completely irresponsible. Like an amusement park caricature, when reality is engorged and distorted, we are able to let the viewer distill the essence of the point or piece by releasing the burden of anchoring it to an objective realism. Holding up their carnival mirror to history, science, and culture has allowed Jake and Dinos Chapman to reflect their grotesque, humorous, and often, accurate worldview to the masses.
The brothers Chapman quickly gained notoriety with a few other of the English gallerist Charles Saatchi curated young British artists, most notably Damien Hirst of ye olde bisected cow fame. Tackling the effects of violence, war, and the perception of flesh and sexuality, their work had to be executed with a certain amount of humor and abandon so as not to become too dark on a superficial level. Their over the top small-scale sculptures of re-appropriated plastic figurines were an inane re-imagining of Francisco Goya’s etchings “The Disasters of War” that later were blown up to life size proportions for the landmark NY show “Sensation”. The thing about their work is, as they deal with scale, working both on a life-size and miniature, it loses no intensity or wit. The work’s ability to play around with how we view sexuality and the grotesque and transform it to an almost farcical play on images based on the conventions of art and childhood is their driving force.
Their work crosses the spectrum, with graphic design, drawings, etchings, sculpture, and installations all being part of the brother’s oeuvre; but they’re most ambitious piece was the room-spanning “F*&cking Hell”. With over 50,000 2-inch figurines depicting the torturous death and maiming done in the name of god, state, and country, it almost literally sucks you into the piece as you get lost in the myriad of scenarios on display. Crucified, eaten by birds, speared, shredded, shot, raped, you name it, it’s depicted here. The attention to detail is staggering, as is what’s depicted by the small toys. The horrors of Pol Pot, Stalin, and Hitler are here, and the bleakness is never ending, but by using the conventions of childhood toy dioramas, the absurdity of the levels of violence is quelled by it’s childlike naivete. The piece is a triumph, and I would give my first born to Rumplestilskin to actually see the piece in person… so if you’re listening, the offer is on the table.
The Chapman brothers’ work continues to evolve, always with its thumb at acceptable culture, and always with a clever eye showing how violence and sex are the predisposed avenues we are drawn into as a society. Their last show, entitled “If Hitler Had Been a Hippy, How Happy Would We Be?” contained a number of verified paintings completed by Adolf Hitler and defaced with 70’s hippy motifs. Art, and the history of art are nothing but a cartoon to Jake and Dinos, which gives them the confidence and the freedom to do what they in do in any manner they choose. The fact that they are cognitively aware that taste and art are subjective and malleable, lets them do anything. Their fearlessness would make Tex Avery happy, and hopefully, Hitler wince.
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