Chapman Brothers Hell

Art So Brutal It Had to Burn: The Hellscapes of Jake and Dinos Chapman

There wasn’t a whole lot of good art coming out of the UK in the nineties. The landscape was dominated by the YBAs – the Young British Artists, mostly graduates of the posh Goldsmiths college, all of them very comfortable with self-promotion and massive quantities of cocaine. Some of the art they made was striking, some of it was at bestmemorable, but real capital-A art was thin on the ground – unless it was being made by Jake and Dinos Chapman.

Born in Hastings, the same grimy seaside town as Aleister Crowley, since 1991 the Chapman Brothers have bought and defaced original Francisco Goya prints, they have cast 69-ing sex dolls in bronze, they have fused genitalia to the noses of children’s mannequins, they have exhibited authentic watercolors by one Adolf Hitler of Munich, Bavaria, covered in asinine hippie symbols. They’ve been called provocateurs, accused of having nothing to offer beyond cock-noses and a weird fetish for Ronald McDonald and his friends, and they’ve been labelled ‘anti-enlightenment.’ That is, they’re against the two-hundred year-old intellectual movement that has meant that being burnt as a witch and leeches being used for medicinal purposes isn’t much of a concern any more.


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Henry Darger Room

The Realms of the Unreal: The Afterlife of America’s Strangest Artist

very day for forty-three years, Henry Darger would leave his single room apartment at 851 W. Webster Avenue on Chicago’s North Side to attend mass, then head to work as a hospital custodian. He barely spoke to anyone – his only friend had left town years before, and the occasional letter was a poor substitute. His bohemian landlord tolerated his eccentricity, and threw him birthday parties. It may not seem like much, but Darger’s early life was one of perpetual neglect; he was given up for adoption at age four, institutionalized for ‘self-abuse’ at thirteen, and escaped at sixteen. Routine and obscurity were the best he could hope for.

Or maybe he was ‘psychologically a serial killer,’ as his biographer John MacGregor calls him in his book Henry Darger: In The Realms of The Unreal – obsessed with young girls, clipping pictures of them from magazines. Perhaps also a killer; a five year old girl, Elsie Paroubek, was found strangled in a drainage ditch not long after Darger returned to Chicago, and he became unnaturally interested in the case, flying into a rage when his only picture of Paroubek was stolen. Maybe the mass he attended – as many as five times a day – wasn’t an expression of his piety, but an attempt to keep something dark inside of him from getting out.