Chapman Bros Bite D*Face

D*Face, the London based graffiti artist, is accusing artist brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman of stealing his idea. The Chapman brothers have been busy at this year’s Frieze Art Fair doodling skulls over Queen Elizabeth’s face on patrons’ £10 and £20 banknotes. D*Face insists that he came up with this same idea years ago.

Have a look for yourself of the original and offending images posted on D*face’s website:

D*face told the Independant in the article “Graf Artist Says Chapmans Stole Idea” Oct. 15, 2007:

I did a project in 2003 where I got £20 notes and defaced them before putting them back in the system. There were 20 variations of hand drawings and printing techniques in which the monarchy is satirised, with images of the Queen being hung, having her head chopped off. Last April, I marked her 80th birthday by showing her dead, with a skull and crossbones,” he said.

D*Face added he had also pasted 5ft posters of the Queen’s defaced image on a £20 around Whitechapel, including Fournier Street, where the Chapman Brothers have a studio space. He also left flyers of the same image in nearby shops and at the Truman Brewery, where he rents a studio.

After witnessing the Chapmans in action at the Frieze, he is now considering taking legal action. “I’m annoyed. It is a blatant rip-off,” D*Face said yesterday.

“It seems that inspiration for the Chapman Brothers’ latest work pays more than a striking resemblance to mine. But it’s just not as good and two years later. These are mainstream artists stealing from sub-cultural artists.”

“I wouldn’t have minded if they had contacted me, like Banksy did in 2005 when we collaborated to create an image of Lady Diana instead of the Queen on a £10 note,” he added.

“Obviously artists are influenced by each other but there has to be a line drawn between influencing and stealing.” Jake Chapman, however, yesterday put up a robust defence of the Frieze project, saying that he and his brother had been “defacing” work since 1991.

“Drawing on money is as original as graffiti and that is as old as the Caves of Lascaux. It’s not a great revelation to draw on money. It’s not original. What’s interesting is that because it’s unoriginal, it’s authorless.

“No one can claim ownership of it. It’s strange for someone to claim authorship of graffiti which is by its very nature an avoidance of the notion of authorship,” he said.”

Here’s what D*face had to say about it himself on his own website:

Stolen*Face – Frieze who goes there.
15.10.2007

So when I saw the Chapman brothers (those Brit artists who have been sleeping on their hands since the 90’s) dead Queen that they were ‘attempting’ to draw at Frieze Art Fair, I thought WTF I recognise that idea… and from the stream of emails I had from people noticing the same ‘similarity’ it became apparent I wasn’t alone in my thinking.

I never claimed ownership for drawing on bank notes, but drawing on bank notes and drawing the Queen dead is two seperate things. It doesn’t help that 2 years ago I pasted a 5ft dead Queen poster on the end of Fournier Street, (where she still remains today) where I later found out they live, apparently though they never saw this, which only confirms my theory that they must be walking around with their eyes closed.

The Independent Newspaper cover the story today.

I’ll let you decide…”

Here’s some more images of defaced bank notes from the earlier campaign of D*faces where he not only scribbled on bank notes (like the Chapmans), but he actually spent them and put them into circulation for the unsuspecting masses to enjoy. To me the act is more important than the artifact:

This one was a canvas and didn’t go into circulation, but I just like it!

(*all images from www.dface.co.uk)

Here’s how the Guardian reported on the Chapman’s successful stint with scribbling on bank notes:

From The Guardian, “Tenner for your thoughts, Dinos?” Oct. 11, 2007:

…”And one thing the über-rich can’t resist is a bargain, which is why they are queueing for hours at the White Cube stand to let Jake and Dinos Chapman doodle over the royal portrait on their fivers, tenners, 20s and 50s. The Chapmans are desecrating for free. On my visit, Dinos was making Her Majesty look like Mr Potato Head. Jake was having trouble getting his pen to work, and wiped his inky nib on my coat. I shall treasure it for ever, and don’t let anyone tell you I don’t declare my interests.

….My Precious…..Clearly the D*face stunt, successfully carried out years ago, has WAY more skill, style, and straight up creativity than handing them out to art fair consumers. I don’t think we need to encourage people to hoard their precious money anymore than they already do!

At last year’s Frieze Art Fair the New York Times reported that the Chapman brothers convinced the public to hand over large sums of cash (£4,500 or about $10,000 with tax) in exchange for portraits sketched in 1/2 an hour or less.

And so the Art World continues to win out, making a select few very rich and giving them dominion over what “art” is and how they can hoard it away in private collections and galleries. And the public just sucks up the slop. Its still the same old story of fine artists and corporations biting graffiti writers and street artists’ ideas a like. Even street art blatantly rips off graffiti sometimes. Seems original creative ideas are hard to come by (just look at the number of sequels and comic book character based movies Hollywood churns out).

However this is the nature of art in general. Artists are always ripping each other ideas off. Cornbread painted on a live elephant in the Philadelphia Zoo years before Banksy did. But to me that doesn’t make Banksy’s work less relevant. (I can’t tell you how many bitter old graffiti writers are out there that feel they were ripped off by society because they never got rich off their contributions to the art form.) And in all fairness any work of art is inspired by a myriad of cultural ideas and artifacts, and images in our collective consciousness that include great works of art. Pop art is by its very nature is referential. The honest artists just credit their inspiration. Perhaps D*face should be flattered. Or maybe not.

Who’s to say what inspired the Chapman’s uninspiring and unoriginal idea? The crime in my eyes is that the public fails to see just how unoriginal it is. They are just eager to commodify so-called art in hopes that those defaced bank notes will appreciate rather quickly.

If D*face were to sue the Chapman brothers for stealing his idea, would Disney go on to sue D*face for copy right infringement in the way he signs his name and the stealing of Mickey Mouse’s original gloves?

What do you think?

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