Jake Chapman was born in Cheltenham and Dinos Chapman in London. Their father was a British art teacher and their mother an orthodox Greek Cypriot. They were brought up in Cheltenham but moved to Hastings where they attended a local comprehensive before attending the University of East London‘s Art college – then atGreengate House, Plaistow – and then enrolling at The Royal College of Art, when they worked as assistants to the artists Gilbert and George. They began their own collaboration in 1992. The brothers have often made pieces with plastic models or fibreglass mannequins of people. An early piece consisted of eighty-three scenes oftorture and disfigurement similar to those recorded by Francisco Goya in his series of etchings, Disasters of War (a work they later returned to) rendered into small three-dimensional plastic models. One of these was later turned into a life-size work, Great Deeds Against the Dead, shown along with Zygotic Acceleration, Biogenetic, De-Sublimated Libidinal Model (Enlarged x 1000) at the Sensation exhibition in 1997.
The Chapman brothers continued the theme of anatomical and pornographic grotesque with a series of mannequins of children, sometimes fused together, with genitalia in place of facial features. Their sculpture Hell(2000) consisted of a large number of miniature figures of Nazis arranged in nine glass cases laid out in the shape of a swastika. In 2003 with a series of works named Insult to Injury, they altered a set of Goya’setchings by adding funny faces. As a protest against this piece, Aaron Barschak (who later became famous for gate-crashing Prince William‘s 21st birthday party dressed as Osama bin Laden in a frock) threw a pot of red paint over Jake Chapman during a talk he was giving in May 2003. The Chapmans’ oeuvre has also referenced work by William Blake, Auguste Rodin and Nicolas Poussin. Jake Chapman has published a number of catalogue essays and pieces of art criticism in his own right, as well as a book, Meatphysics, published by Creation Books in 2003. The brothers have also designed a label for Becks beer as part of a series of limited edition labels produced by contemporary artists. Using a title from the Tim Burton film, in 2004 they curated A Nightmare Before Christmas as part of the occasional All Tomorrow’s Parties music festival at Camber Sands.
The Chapman brothers were nominated for the Turner Prize in 2003. As well as including Insult to Injury, their Turner Prize exhibit debuted two new works Sex and Death. Sexdirectly referenced their previous work Great Deeds against the Dead. The original work shows three dismembered corpses hanging from a tree, Sex shows the same scenario, but in a heightened state of decay. Additionally clown’s noses are now present on the skulls of the corpses; snakes, rats and insects (like those found in joke shops) cover the piece.Death is two sex dolls, placed on top of each other, head-to-toe in the 69 sex position: despite appearing to be made of plastic it is in fact cast in bronze and painted to look like plastic. On 24 May 2004, a fire in a storage warehouse destroyed many works from the Saatchi collection including Hell. The brothers subsequently made a very similar, though more extensive, work called Fucking Hell.
In 2007, they were criticised by journalist Johann Hari for adopting an anti-Enlightenment philosophy, and for Jake Chapman saying that the boys who murdered Liverpool toddlerJames Bulger performed “a good social service”. Jake Chapman responded by calling Johann Hari “fat-faced ugly [and] four-eyed” and “a fascist”, and claimed the Bulger quote and others had been “stripped from the serious debate in which they belong”.
In May 2008 the White Cube gallery exhibited 13 apparently authenticated watercolours painted by Adolf Hitler, to which the brothers have added hippie motifs. Jake Chapman described most of the dictator’s works as ‘awful landscapes’ which they had ‘prettified’. Also included in the exhibition was Fucking Hell, the (somewhat altered) remake of Hell, and a series of doctored eighteenth and nineteenth century-style aristocratic portraits in oils.