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Artists Gilbert & George
Gilbert & George Photo

Gilbert & George

British Sculptors, Photographers, Digital, Performance, and Conceptual Artists

Movements and Styles: Performance Art, Conceptual Art, Modern Photography, Pop Art, Digital Art

Born: Gilbert: September 17th, 1943 - Dolomites, Italy
           George: January 8th, 1942 - Devon, England

Gilbert & George Timeline

Quotes

"It's not a collaboration. . . We are two people, but one artist."
Gilbert & George
"We would say that we are the weirdest people we know. For many years we said that we were the unhappiest people we knew - and then we actually became unhappy, so we stopped saying it. More recently we stated 'we are the most disturbed people we know."
Gilbert & George
"It was our biggest invention. We had made ourselves the artwork."
Gilbert & George
"We have to seduce audiences with beautiful, crafted artworks and only then can they become slaves to our feelings."
Gilbert & George
"We don't want to be confrontational; we prefer to be subversive."
Gilbert & George
"Our art is the friendship formed between the viewer and the pictures. Each picture speaks of a 'particular view' which the viewer may consider in the light of its own life."
Gilbert & George

"We want our art to bring out the bigot from inside the liberal and conversely bring out the liberal from inside the bigot."

Synopsis

As one in life and art for 50 years, Gilbert & George make work that is often huge, extremely brash and noisy - it literally screams for your attention. They tackle tough subjects such as death, religion, power, the monarchy, patriotism, identity and sexuality, often combining these into one dazzling composite image. Chuck in a few swear words (and possibly a bodily fluid or two) and you have the essence of Gilbert & George.

Nowadays an elderly gay couple in their Seventies, Gilbert & George can often be seen in formal suits strolling around Spitalfields, the area of East London that they have made their home. This is not to say the artist duo has settled down for a quiet life. Happy to be known as confrontational, Gilbert & George continue to make work that defies the norm, often delighting in the response to their controversial images and provocative slogans.

Key Ideas

Critical to the understanding of Gilbert & George is the fact that these two individuals function as one artist. The two men began working together at art school ­in 1967- and have lived and worked together in a carefully restored house in East London ever since. Mostly identically dressed in formal tweed suits, Gilbert and George's genteel, ordered appearance and ascetic lifestyle is curiously at odds with their riotous and often garish works of art.
Gilbert & George are iconoclasts, attacking the beliefs that art holds most dear. They believe that art and life should be brought closer together and their 'living sculptures' were one early way of bridging this gap. Living and working together as an artist duo was a further way of creating this necessary merger - art becomes life and life becomes art. Their democratic approach encompasses the idea that it doesn't matter what your background is or where you come from, art is for all.
Their art is deliberately controversial and designed to offend as they believe that good taste is the scourge of modern life. While they are unafraid to tackle difficult subjects head on, they are sometimes reluctant to be pinned down about their own opinions and have made some conflicting statements about their views over the years. One consistent idea running through their work is the need to strive towards a world that is free from dogmatic religion and political correctness.
They employ shock tactics in order to get their message across. Swear words, scatological references and bodily fluids - all previously not considered to be part of art's lexicon - have been employed by Gilbert and George to calculating effect.
Their color is bold and at times eye-wateringly bright. Often when building digital compositions they use hallucinogenic colors in lurid combinations. Their whole aesthetic is a deliberate anti-aesthetic, designed to grab and goad the viewer in equal measure. In recent times they have made repeated use of large-scale, bold graphic style photo-based imagery, constructed through a digitally manipulated process.
As a gay couple who document themselves in their art, theirs is a celebration of otherness with early works showing them eating breakfast and getting drunk at home on gin. These early works have a gentler, poetic quality in keeping with the image they have cultivated of themselves as aesthetes and lovers of history.
The fact that they live in London is crucial to the appreciation of Gilbert & George's art. From early works in the 1970s that feature images of angry crowds and homelessness to later works that reveal a London divided along religious lines, they have used their art to chronicle Britain's capital city for over five decades.

Biography

Gilbert & George Photo

Childhood

Both men came from relatively modest backgrounds. Gilbert was born Gilbert Prousch in 1943, in the Dolomites - the Alpine region of northeastern Italy. He came from a family of shoemakers and his first artistic endeavors were in traditional Alpine wood carving. George was born George Passmore in 1942, in Plymouth, moving early on to a small town in Devon, England. George was raised by a single mother who worked as a waitress, and gave him elocution lessons. George's childhood was similar to his partner's, he remembers living without heat, bathroom or hot water. Often the school lunch would be his only real meal of the day. His family was quite religious, which led his older brother to become a vicar. By age 15, George had quit school. He was, however, already studying art at the renowned Dartington Hall School, while also working at a bookshop.

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Gilbert & George Biography Continues

Important Art by Gilbert & George

The below artworks are the most important by Gilbert & George - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

George the Cunt and Gilbert the Shit (1969)
Artwork Images

George the Cunt and Gilbert the Shit (1969)

Artwork description & Analysis: George the Cunt and Gilbert the Shit is a double color portrait of the artists dressed smartly in suits with ties and flowers in their lapels. George on the left hand side is smoking a cigarette. Both are smiling for the camera - the sort of cheesy smile that you might make for a photographer at a wedding. Yet, disrupting any sense of propriety, cut-out letters announcing George the Cunt and Gilbert the Shit are emblazoned across their chests.

This is a pivotal work in the artists' career. It was at this point, the duo decided that there would be no separation between themselves and their art. Aware that what they were proposing was quite bold, they decided to anticipate any potential criticism by labeling themselves pejoratively. Here the terms cunt and shit are not just designed to offend but show that the pair refused to be dependent on the art industry's opinion, arguably the work's main legacy.

The artists whose background was in sculpture, classified most of their early work including George the Cunt and Gilbert the Shit as magazine sculptures. These were works published in newspapers, magazines, and occasionally as postcards. This work was shown in an invitation-only pop-up event at Robert Fraser Gallery in May 1969 before becoming a magazine spread. As revealed by the duo, the magazine version, published in the journal Studio International, was in black and white against their wishes. At the time, fine art photography was almost always black and white and color photographs were considered tacky. The words cunt and shit were also censored and appeared covered.

2 photographs, color, on paper on printed paper - Tate

Singing Sculpture (1969)
Artwork Images

Singing Sculpture (1969)

Artwork description & Analysis: The idea for living sculptures - the artists creating their art using their own bodies - first started when they were students. Gilbert & George performed Singing Sculpture over a number of years and was their first success. For this performance they painted themselves in bronze and dressed in suits to sing and dance to a 1930s song titled Underneath the Arches. In the original song, performed by popular vaudeville artists Flanagan and Allen, two men discover some pleasure in the fact they have no homes to go to and have to sleep outside in the open air. Gilbert & George's version saw the artists dancing robotically like puppets.

In this work the duo furthered their aim of breaking down the distinction between life and art by making a link to prewar Britain, a time when there was a lot of poverty and many people were marginalized within society. It also managed to engage a wider public through a popular song. In identifying with the lyrics of Underneath the Arches and with tramps who live underneath the arches rather than in fancy hotels, Gilbert commented "that song was about our existence. The words described what we were like (...) we didn't have anything."

Performed many times all over the world between 1969 and 1991this Singing Sculpture normally lasted six minutes, however in a few versions, it became an endurance piece and lasted for eight hours or more.

The work was important for rejecting the idea of 'a formalistic art based on shapes and colors' at a time when the artists were experimenting with new media as well as ways of avoiding the commodification and fetishization of the art object.

Performance art (bronze paint, tape recorder, cane, glove)

The Tuileries (1974)
Artwork Images

The Tuileries (1974)

Artwork description & Analysis: The Tuileries installation consists of life-size charcoal drawings of trees lining the walls of a living room, with the same imagery plastered all over the furniture as well. The size of the room is based on the living room of the gallerists that first commissioned the piece. The furniture is based on pieces from the artists' home - the two chairs can also be seen in their early video Gordon's Makes us Drunk (1972). Although the pair used the term sculpture to categorize all their oeuvre, this installation is one of their few works that actually features three-dimensional sculptures.

The overall effect of this installation is of a secluded wooded copse. This is significant because the duo is deliberately referring to the homosexual practice of cottaging - gay men having casual sex in woods. The Tuileries was a well-known hang-out for the Parisian homosexual community in the early 1970s. In one of the three large backdrop-like drawings, there is a life-size self-portrait of the couple strolling at the park. By inserting themselves in such a setting, Gilbert & George proudly declare their homosexuality. Yet, as art critic Blake Gopnik noted, these charcoal drawings are melancholic. and this "sadness has an important social dimension: It's how it felt to be a gay couple in 1960s in Britain."

Additionally, the domestic scale of the furniture together with the surrounding drawings, make The Tuileries an immersive experience, one in which the viewer experiences the park with the artists. Creating inclusive and accessible works of art is one of Gilbert & George's main concerns, and although a somewhat utopian idea, their proposed 'Art for All,' was at the time revolutionary. Regardless of your background, your race, or your sexual orientation - the duo invited you to take a stroll in The Tuileries.

Charcoal on paper, and charcoal on paper mounted on wood, eight parts - MoMA

More Gilbert & George Artwork and Analysis:

Coming (1975) Polish Cross (1981) Drunk with God (1983) Blood on Piss (1996) BEARDGATE (2016)


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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Gilbert & George
Interactive chart with Gilbert & George's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Francis BaconFrancis Bacon
Andy WarholAndy Warhol
William BlakeWilliam Blake
Oscar WildeOscar Wilde

Personal Contacts

Anthony CaroAnthony Caro
Philip King

Movements

Pop ArtPop Art
Conceptual ArtConceptual Art
Performance ArtPerformance Art

Influences on Artist
Gilbert & George
Gilbert & George
Years Worked: 1967 - present
Influenced by Artist

Artists

AndrewAndrew
Aziz + Cucher
Damien HirstDamien Hirst
EVA & ADELE

Personal Contacts

Andy WarholAndy Warhol
Andrew Heard
David Robilliard
Joshua Compston

Movements

Performance ArtPerformance Art
Queer Art
Abject Art

Useful Resources on Gilbert & George

Videos

Books

Websites

Articles

More

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
Gilbert & George: an intimate conversation with François Jonquet

By François Jonquet

Gilbert & George: The Complete Pictures 1971-1985

By Carter Radcliff

What is Gilbert & George

By Michael Bracewell

Gilbert & George: Obsessions and Compulsions

By Robin Dutt

The Secret Files of Gilbert & George

This 35-minute film produced, hosted and edited by the international curator Hans Ulrich Obrist is the first documentary to follow Gilbert & George inside their creative process, and into their archives and collection.

BBC Imagine... Gilbert & George – No Surrender Recomended resource

Artists invited Alan Yentob into their East End home for this interview

Gilbert & George: The Early Years: ARTIST PROFILES Recomended resource

The Museum of Modern Art

Gilbert & George in conversation with Tim Marlow

Interview with Royal Academy of Arts' Artistic Director

More Interesting Videos with Gilbert & George

in pop culture

In 2017, an opera about their life and work, titled The Naked Shit Songs premiered in Amsterdam. The opera was created by the Dutch composer Huba de Graaff.

Link to the video compilation of The Naked Shit Songs, which is an Opera based on the interview of Theo van Gogh with Gilbert and George in 1996.

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Vitoria Hadba Groom

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Vitoria Hadba Groom
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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