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 best memorable, 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.


Chapman Bros. Hell


Amongst all of their provocations, ‘Hell’ reigns supreme: an arrangement of nine cabinets in the shape of a swastika, containing tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of miniatures doing the most disgusting, depraved things imaginable. Most of the figures are Nazis, a favorite Chapman Bros. foil, the rest are skeletons or the deformed grotesques that Chapman fans will have seen life-size versions of in other exhibits. There’s Ronald McDonald, crucified dozens of times; there’s Stephen Hawking on a Dieselpunk wheelchair, a train delivering hundreds of SS officers to a death-camp in an inverted Holocaust. It’s huge enough that if you’re lucky enough to see it twice you’ll experience a thousand new blasphemies. Sure, it’s all pretty horrible, but there’s black humor there, and even a viscous sense of justice: like Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, Hell imagines Nazis finally getting what they deserve. To get a sense of the scale of ‘Hell’, look at a high-res picture and realize that’s just a small part of an awful whole.


Chapman Bros. Hell 2


The brothers debuted ‘Fucking Hell’ at the White Gallery, a small but influential space in London’s fashionable borough of Shoreditch. It was a hit – one that terrified and repulsed a lot of people and only served to reinforce the mainstream press’ accusation that art had lost its way around the time rich white guys stopped painting pretty pictures of hills – but still a hit. They made other works, and in 2003 were nominated for the Turner prize, the UK’s most prestigious award for art. Then, in 2004, while all nine cabinets sat in storage in a warehouse owned by multi-millionaire advertising magnate and art collector Charles Saatchi, a fire broke out and ‘Hell’ was burnt beyond all recognition.


Chapman Hell 3


Perhaps because it was such an iconic piece, perhaps because it said everything that Jake and Dinos wanted to say, the brothers re-made ‘Hell’ as ‘Fucking Hell’, bigger and badder than the original. In part or in whole, it is still exhibited around the world today. If you’ve got the stomach for it, and if you want to spend an hour pointing at the most horrifying things imaginable and laughing, then check it out.



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The Author

Gareth Watkins

Gareth Watkins

Born and raised in the UK, moved to Calgary, Alberta for the weather. Currently writing for this publication and others while working on a book.

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Yoallan MontielAndrés AndradeNichole M. FieldsMyles SymonsNina Pantelic Recent comment authors
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Yoallan Montiel

Eva Rarissima

Andrés Andrade

Effy Moon

Justin Ton

Paul Missirlian David Blutarsky

Myles Symons

Paul Carlson

Jess Andrews

Steve Jern-Jord Claxton

Der Cadaver

Julianna Hërbstleyd!!!!!!!!!!


I think they’re incredible.

Montgomery Schaff

Yo, nice shit!

Patrick McIntyre

Stephanie Koithan

Niccolò Misrachi

Elena Catalano Gabriele Ricciardi

Sam Read

little vidd on how these beasts are made

Jeremie Bouissou

That’s cute!

Nichole M. Fields


Tony Jake Jordan

that is outstanding. Did they make all of those figures? If not, where did they get so many? I collect miniature things and would love to find that many corpses and skeletons sold in bulk.

Robert Michael


Ashley Moye

Hastings finest

Nina Pantelic

Alberto García Herrero

Lou Ford

Saw these in London. Chapman brothers tend to overdo themes probably so they can shill more units. They let my friends band use some photos as cover art but honestly I thought it looked terrible.

Por Kloin

favourite artists

Mark Wood

Take The Curse

Valtteri Manala

Yes! One of the best album arts I’ve seen. And not just the cover but all of it.
comment image

Alex Boniwell

I saw these in London, quite remarkable, and the Chapmans are very nice boys.