Gilbert & George


Gilbert & George met in 1969 at St Martin’s School of Art, London, where they were studying sculpture. They instinctively began working together, even though Gilbert could not speak English.

Gilbert is short, mischievous, full of cheeky, seedy smiles. He comes from the Dolomites. He is 44 and feels 17. He once worked restoring Churches. George is strong, gently with a military manner. He comes from Devon. He is 45 and feels 117. He smokes Piccadilly cigarettes and physically trembles from nervousness. He once worked in a bookshop.

They live in an 18th Century terrace house in a run-down part of East London, which they restored themselves. They collect wooden furniture and vases. They never read, go to the theatre, films or galleries because they feel they are not from “that class”. They have no car, never travel abroad or to the countryside, which they find “smelly”.

Real ‘Living Sculptures’, they are impeccably groomed, meticulously neat and effusively charming – true gentlemen, always dressed in worsted suits which they buy from “a tailor down the road”.

They start work at 6.30am each day, working all day, taking breakfast and lunch at the café across the road where they have eaten for 16 years. They never eat dinner, conserving the time and energy for their work.

Their first “one-man show” was at a Sandwich Bar in London. They then perfected their famous eight-hour ‘Singing Sculpture’ – painting their hands and faces bronze and singing the English Music Hall song, ‘Underneath The Arches’ outside Charing Cross Station – which they say provided passersby with something through which to “review their whole life and thoughts.”

‘Meal Sculpture’ involved them eating meals in public places. ‘Magazine Sculpture’ in a 1969 edition of ‘Studio International’ magazine featured photographs with the labels ‘George The Cunt’ and ‘Gilbert The Shit’ on their suits.

During the 70’s they produced dyed photographic montages showing them slumped in a drunken stupor amidst a wreckage of gin bottles, evidence of numerous heavily inebriated public appearances that often resulted in violent fights. They “enjoyed the freedom of being drunk.”

They began to perfect their luridly coloured, often life-size ‘photo pieces’, using photographic paper squares, liquid dyes, intricate hand-masking and hand-drying techniques, taking over 30,000 photographs for a two-year period of work and creating modern stained-glass windows of inner-city life.

Their ‘Dirty Words’ series featured obscene political graffiti with self-explanatory titles such as ‘Fuck’, ‘Wanker’, ‘Cunt Scum’, ‘Queer’, ‘Fucked Up’, ‘Bent Shit Cunt’, and ‘Smash The Reds’.

1980’s ‘Modern Fears’ included politically explosive imagery of fascist skinheads, black youths from the East End and titles like ‘Black Man’, ‘Ass’, ‘Paki’, ‘Red Fist’, ‘Germania’, ‘Patriot’, ‘Black Christ’ and ‘Black Church Face’.

The ‘New Moral Works’ and ‘Death Hope Life Fear’ series included titles like ‘Uprising’, ‘Militant’, ‘Class War’ and ‘Bad God’, feature militant, shirtless youths against classic G&G imagery of London markets, underpasses, tower blocks and riot police. These are often juxtaposed against bright imagery such as trees, fruit, blossom, crucifixes, money, clouds, roses, insects, sperm, shit, blood, and penises. ‘Cock’ was a 48 x 59” photograph of an erect penis.

Other photographs were of tramps, alcoholics, and most frequently multi-image cut-outs of Gilbert & George themselves, seemingly floating around inside the pictures looking out at the vivid colour and cartoon images with wonder or witnessing the conflicts of new British culture, with the skinheads and black youth as the children of new Britain, the new social order, conflicting against the tradition, with G&G supporting both sides.

Regular themes include sex, death, religion, truth, fear, decay, violence, myth, hope, beauty and youth. George describes them as “grippingly beautiful” pictures. He is right.

Their new 270-page catalogue, ‘The Complete Pictures 1971 – 1985’ was subsidized by Gilbert & George from its £35 printing costs to sell for just £8 – a subversive gesture of some significance. Against violent opposition from the Art World, they won the highly prestigious Tate Gallery’s Turner Prize in 1986 and in 1987 became the first contemporary artists to exhibit at the Hayward Gallery in London for twelve years.

They have published 17 books and other publications, made 6 films and videos and have had 87 solo museum and gallery exhibitions. After their last tour drew audiences of almost half a million in London, Basel, Bordeaux, Brussels, Madrid and Munich to add to their huge following in Japan, America and Australia, they are probably Britain’s most famous living artists.


We’re the most serious, miserable people we’ve ever met.

We’re not intellectuals. We’re ordinary.

We like to look normal but underneath we’re tortured. We wear suits because the public accepts them totally, from any class or race. They are the uniform of the 20th Century. A sign of our ordinariness. We are typical 20th Century people.

We don’t think about Art. We have nothing to do with it. We’re not based on ideas. We never have them.

We are completely without self. We are our Art. We never think about a picture in advance. How we hope, how we fear, how we dream, how we love, that is how the picture will be. Our Art tomorrow will be how we are tomorrow.

We never have arguments. We aren’t interested in that idea. It would be time consuming. We never think, ‘That doesn’t work’.

We’re on a crusade. We work as many hours as we can, day and night, until we are exhausted. We are driven. We will work until we are dead.

We want to provoke thought. Our reason for making pictures is to change people, not to congratulate them on being how they are. We want people to go out of our exhibitions thinking differently, hoping, loving, hating, fearing differently. We do a picture and if a person says, ‘It’s very bad. You shouldn’t have been allowed to do it’, we say ‘WHO CARES?!’ It’s too late. The subversion is taking place. The world is already a different place because of us. That person is a different person.

People have never seen artwork with shit in it. After they’ve seen it, they’ve changed. We’ve gone into their beings. If shit shocks them, it’s because it’s never spoken about. We don’t want to shock. We want to de-shock. Even Jesus Christ was controversial. We are trying to fight for a certain freedom where everybody can do whatever they want. We are freedom fighters, ‘Super Liberals’, ‘Secret Socialists’. We support tradition but we want to change it. More importantly, we’re normal.

We believe in Christian power. The pictures are visual sermons. Constable advertised his pictures by signing them. We’ve taken that identification one stage further.

When they called us fascists it made us stronger. We were deeply hurt. We’re very sensitive people. We are the only artists able to put a black person on completely the same level as a white person.

We are interested in pure philosophy. Art is pure thought. Each bottle, each shirt, label, cigarette, it all stemmed from Art. So Art does affect people’s lives. We want to make Art more popular, more democratic. All other artists are involved in self and chasing pleasure and being superior. We are not here to reflect life. We want to form it. The true function of Art is to bring about new understanding, progress and advancement. Every person on earth agrees there is room for improvement.

Art is there to stimulate thought. An advertising campaign of pure thought. Just as the Church used painters to campaign for religion.

We have already subverted the profession. We have a growing band of extreme intellectuals supporting us, matched by amazing hostility from within the profession. Some people would like to see us dead. Art is for all, not for the intelligentsia. Some critics dislike us because they want dead artists and work that no-one understands. We talk directly to the viewer, not use obscure language. Our work is not obsessed with texture and aesthetics. The Art profession may be interested in the formalist aspect of Henry Moore’s work, for example, but the public just wants to know why there’s a hole in the middle.

We accept all the qualities of life – depression, fear, war and violence – and use them in our work. People cry in front of our pictures. When they see our pictures they don’t feel so alone. The content of mankind is our content and inspiration. It’s very important for us to keep miserable.

We like to say, it’s all fantastic. We never feel bored. We wouldn’t want to be involved with destructive thought. When we were children you could either have a brown jumper or a green jumper. Now there are 50,000 jumpers. Travel, literature, television, music. Fantastic life. But we don’t enjoy our life. We already gave our life away for our art. Every good artist is unhappy. We are not interested in enjoyment. It’s distracting. The history of civilization is written in blood, misery and sacrifice. Every school, university, art gallery, police station, hospital is based on one inspiration. Misery.

We have no friends. We are opposed to that idea. If you have friends you have to compromise. Families also interfere. They take away your freedom. We never see them.

We are entirely uninterested in food. We are interested in sex. There are no great eunuch artists. There’s nothing homosexual about our pictures. True Art comes from three main life-forces. The Head, The Soul, and The Sex. Women don’t have cocks. We are involved with human beings and the cock is one of the most important objects in life. It very nearly is life. Our heads are aching with thought, we have stomach ache from feeling and the body is full of desire. We’re completely terrified and terrorized in that way. We want to spill our blood, our brains and our seed for our work.

Do you love each other very much ?
“Oh, I hope so. Certainly, certainly.”