Brothers who are artistic collaborators, the Chapmans emerged as members of the Young British Artists (YBA) group in London in the early 1990s. Their sculptures, installations, and works on paper are deliberately aimed at confronting middle-class values and notions of good taste. Among their controversial early works are fiberglass sculptures of figures whose facial features have been replaced by genitalia.
Despite their sardonic nihilism and bad-boy reputations, the Chapmans' work is often grounded in art history, including repeated references to Francisco de Goya and other proponents of satire and fantasy. These etchings, for example, are from a portfolio inspired by the Surrealist game of chance known as Exquisite Corpse, in which a sheet of paper is folded into four parts corresponding to the head, chest, trunk, and legs of a human body. Each player draws one section and then conceals it before passing it on to the next. In that manner the two brothers took turns drawing on prepared etching plates to make this portfolio. Combining horror with humor and clearly relishing the minute, obsessive details that are possible in etching, the Chapmans concocted the hallucinatory figures in this series by connecting various bizarre, incongruous, and often sexualized or scatological forms.
The brothers Dinos and Jake Chapman, known for their sculptural installations involving shock-value tactics and pointed assaults on "good taste," began working together as artists in 1992. Their first major project was a 1993 collection of toy-soldier-sized figurines based on Francisco Goya's The Disasters of War (c. 1810–23), the famous print series chronicling human brutality. They have continued to revisit this theme periodically in sculptural projects as well as in a major suite of eighty-three prints, all of which reflect a darkly humorous, nihilistic, anti-establishment point of view. In a recent project titled Insult to Injury (2003), they took the controversial step of "rectifying" an actual set of Goya's prints by using watercolor to add the faces of clowns, dogs, donkeys, and other grotesque and comical figures.
The Chapmans' own involvement with printmaking includes two large cycles of etchings published by The Paragon Press, one related to Goya, mentioned above, and one presented here. Both projects reflect an appreciation for the minute, obsessive details that are possible in etching, and an admiration for a tradition of the grotesque in printmaking that extends from Pieter Breughel through Goya to James Ensor, Otto Dix, and Surrealism. The Exquisite Corpse portfolio was inspired by a Surrealist game of chance, known by this title, in which a sheet of paper is folded into four parts roughly corresponding to the head, chest, trunk, and legs of a human body. Each player, working in turn, completes a section and conceals it before passing the paper to the next. To translate this process into printmaking, each brother worked on a section of a plate and then covered it up before passing it to the other. The final images pay homage to their Surrealist forebearers with horrifying creatures that seem to have arisen from some subconscious, hallucinatory world.