Tools of the trade

2 Models Jake and Dinos Chapman use toy soldiers to pay homage to Goya's 'Disasters of War'

Between 1812 and 1815, Francisco Goya created one of the most enduring indictments of man's inhumanity to man in his "Disasters of War", a series of 83 etchings in which he depicted the dreadful barbarities perpetrated by the French army of Napoleon against his countrymen.

One hundred and eighty years later, the young British artistic duo Jake and Dinos Chapman re-interpreted the "Disasters" in their own series of 3D artworks. Their life-size version of a particularly harrowing scene of the castration of Spanish prisoners, in which they used shop dummies, shocked passers-by when displayed in the window of Victoria Miro's Cork Street gallery.

Previously, though, the brothers had painstakingly recreated a number of smaller versions of each of the 83 scenes. "It took us six months," says Jake. "We just used toy soldiers, bought at the most neurotic shops in the world, where you see grown men desperately looking for omnipotence." With no little amount of ingenuity, for half a year he and his brother worked with painstaking care to adapt the little 54mm figures to replicate the miseries of Goya's images. But what can have prompted the two young turks to have entered those shops in the first place, or to have conceived their three-dimensional horrors?

During the late 1970s, in the days when a PC was still a man in a blue uniform, little boys spent their time not with Sonic the Hedgehog, but gluing together Airfix kits and painting them with Humbrol enamels. In 1978, when Jake and Dinos were an impressionable 12 and 16, Almark books published a handy book called Building Napoleonic Dioramas. It's filled with invaluable tips. "Very successful dioramas," reads the introduction, "can be achieved by copying paintings by the masters of the time... Great care should be taken to position the figures to create the correct depth and perspective."

It's probable, of course, that the model-makers encountered on buying forays to "neurotic shops" would never have envisaged any more unpleasant subject for their miniature creations than "Dragoons at a Well", or "The Glorious Gloucesters at Alexandria", and, through their gritty realism, Jake and Dinos have wittily subverted an apparently morbid sub-culture. But surely the brothers would agree with the author of Almark's indispensable guide that: "It is very gratifying to create a good, well-balanced diorama. To see a group of figures on an attractive base is very nice."

IAIN GALE

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