Given the bad-boy image of the artist duo the Chapman brothers, Jake makes a gentle, even kindly presenter. In BBC4’s Goya Exposed with Jake Chapman (Sunday 10pm) he proposes to show us “Goya’s dark underbelly”, which immediately sends out warning signals of disembowelment.
For 20 years, Jake and his brother Dinos have rung variations on the Spanish artist’s 83 copperplate images of atrocities in the war against Napoleon.
The Chapmans have made toy-soldier reproductions of bloody groups depicted; they have “rectified” — added to — visual material; they have made near-pornographic sculptures; they have introduced the macabre and the comic into Goya’s nightmare visions — including Ronald McDonald, a frequently mutilated clownish intrusion.
They even, notoriously, gave their special treatment to a mint set of pictures, redrawing and colouring them (they are not rarities, Jake reassures us; by definition they are reproductions from copper plates). Jake wonders whether the brothers could sell the doctored work to create “a rollover slush fund” to keep buying and adorning Goya’s work.
The film escorts Jake to Spain to see original work by Goya, amazingly for the first time. One’s suspicions are aroused as to the nature of Jake’s reverence for the Spanish artist. He says much that is obvious about the fully dressed being more erotic than the naked, and sagely concludes that the artistic portrayal of madness does not mean that the artist is mad. Confusion is added to triteness when Jake starts doing sleight-of-hand between medium and message, the psychological demands made on artist and viewer, and the paradoxical clash of repulsive content and genius aesthetics.
The glimpses of Goya are worth it, as are the glimpses of the Chapmans’ multiple homages, whether toy-size (“Goya crazy golf!” says Jake, delighted) or on the scale of shop-window mannequins. And Jake himself seems much nicer than one might have gathered from a remark he was once reported to have made about children’s unsuitability for art galleries (“Children are not human yet”).
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