Take note: Artist claims that Chapmans 'stole' graffiti idea

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The Independent Online

When the art world heard that Jake and Dinos Chapman were defacing £10 and £20 notes as part of a maverick new project at the Frieze Art Fair, the spectacle fast became one of the highlights of the event, attracting queues of fans and yet more notoriety for the former doyens of the Young British Art movement.

One London artist and occasional collaborator with Banksy was, however, distinctly unimpressed. After launching a successful career through publicly defacing banknotes, D*Face, a star name at the fashionable Stolen Space gallery in Brick Lane, east London, was outraged to see the brothers adopting a similar device to much widespread acclaim. According to D*Face, who will not disclose his real identity, his own artistic reputation was made in super-imposing graffiti onto currency before placing the notes back into circulation.

"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.

He added the Frieze work could not have been inspired by D*Face's work, because neither had ever seen any of it.

"His [D*Face's] argument is rendered even more absurd by bringing local geography into it," he said. The row is an echo of the recent furore concerning Damien Hirst's £50m diamond-encrusted skull, which drew comparisons with a similar earlier design from the jewellers, Butler and Wilson. However, no allegation of plagiarism was made.

But yesterday at the Frieze, it was business as usual. Visitors queued patiently to have their notes "worked upon" by the brothers. Moustaches, beards and glasses were super-imposed onto the image of the Queen along with ever-popular skull and crossbones.

The Chapmans' White Cube gallery stand was as popular as ever on the last day of the fair. But the legal battle between the brothers and the urban artist who has accused them of plagiarism may be only just about to begin.