UNTITLED (SKULL PANEL), 2003
JAKE AND DINOS CHAPMAN
fiberglass and resin relief panel
120.0 x 243.5 cm
Private collection, London, acquired directly from the artists
Sotheby’s, London, 19 June 2006, lot 688
Gould collection, Melbourne
COLLECTABLE + EXCEPTIONAL: The Director’s Choice 2007, Gould Galleries, Melbourne, 17 February – 20 March 2007, cat. 21 (illus. in exhibition catalogue)
Skull Wall Panel (Triumph), 1999, mixed media, 240.0 x 243.5 cm, private collection, illus. online catalogue, www.jakeanddinoschapman.com/works/skull-wall-triumph/
This work has been requested for inclusion in the exhibition Romancing the Skull, Art Gallery of Ballarat, Victoria, 13 October 2017 – 28 January 2018
Accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from Jake and Dinos Chapman, London, 4 July 2006
Provocative enfants terribles of the Young British Artist (YBA) movement, brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman have such a fixation with death that they even fashioned their logo from the skull-and-crossbones icon of the pirate ships of times past. However, for all their revelling in the most macabre constructions of their imagination(s), the Chapman Brothers create artworks that encourage us to give into our unregulated urges to laugh at unpalatable visions and situations, and, more seriously, to consider both the fleeting nature of human life and the atrocities that we alone are capable of.
Closely related to the upper panel of a large earlier work, titled Skull Wall Panel (Triumph), 1999, the work on offer, Untitled (Skull Panel), 2003, is a relief in fiberglass and resin coated with a varnish to resemble rich soil. Although not immediately evident, the surface of this large panel is riddled with floating human or ape-like skulls surging out of its taut surface. These forms are uncovered by the viewer, like an unexpected archaeological unearthing, a macabre discovery of a mass burial. The skulls, in their arrangement and expressions, also seem to display their own desire to escape the confines of their fiberglass encasing. The Chapman Brothers illustrate a sublime tension between material and object, a battle between forces that has inspired sculptors and philosophers for millennia. In this respect, the sculpture draws from other classical works such as the lintel of French sculptor Auguste Rodin’s Gates of Hell, 1883, which features a frieze of heads and skulls in partial relief from their bronze panel.
Created in 2003, the year the Chapman Brothers were nominated for the respected British Turner Prize, Untitled (Skull Panel) is a unique work within the brothers’ practice. Uncharacteristically subtle, this work is more meditative than others in their oeuvre, featuring little of the Chapmans’ black humour undercutting the mastery of their craftsmanship. In contrast, its related work, Skull Wall Panel (Triumph), 1999 has countless pairs of painted googly eyes on each skull, giving the ensemble an unavoidable comical air, the skulls rendered caricatures of death popularised by punk imagery of the early 1990s. Dinos Chapman spoke of the power of this device in the years preceding the creation of the work on offer: ‘the eyes deflate any sense of menace, the whole image deflates itself’. 1Untitled (Skull Panel) is a rare, pure and intact example of the brothers’ artistic impulse, unobscured by humour and gimmicky risqué suggestions.
1. Chapman, D., quoted in In Print: Contemporary British Art from the Paragon Press, exhibition catalogue, Cvijeta Zuzoric Art Pavilion, Belgrade, London, 2001, p. 21