Gilbert & George
The artist duo Gilbert & George is made up of Italian-born Gilbert Proesch (b. 1943) and British George Passmore (b. 1942). They live and work together in London and have made their mark on the international art scene for over 40 years. Together they create large formatted photo-based works in a graphic style with bright colors, as well as paintings, collages, performances and video works. Gilbert & George do not separate life and art and can often be seen in their own works, which depict a wide range of human experiences such as religion, sexuality, identity, urban life, terrorism, superstition, AIDS, old age and death.
Gilbert & George met as students at the sculpture line at St. Martins School of Arts in London in the late 1960's. In protest against what they believed to be an elitist tradition of sculpture out of touch with life outside the art world, they began to act as "living sculptures". The most famous of these performances, which could last up to eight hours, was the performance of "Underneath the Arches", a sentimental hit from the years between the wars. The duo would mime the song on the street for random passersby or standing on top of a table in the galleries, with faces and hands covered in metallic colors. Gilbert & George attracted attention in an era of protest and youth rebellion by emerging at all times as conservative gentleman in suits, ties and walking sticks. The ambition to bring art and life closer together led them to put themselves at the center of their art. This staging of the artists' role made Gilbert & George both subjects and objects in their art.
Features from pop and conceptual art appear in the duo's themes, style and expression. Although they see themselves as sculptors, Gilbert & George are probably best known for extensive production of large scaled photo-based compositions. Their first works can be described as documentation of their lives as "living sculptures" through black and white photographs installed in clusters. Then the artists introduced their distinctive grids and started to paint upon photos with strong colors, first in red and yellow. Later the range of colors and size of their works increased, which today bring to mind a cross between billboards and religious stained glass windows.
Gilbert & George are characterized as a unit and have put their own identities aside in favor of a stylized image. The artists' proper exterior stand in contrast to what may be perceived as rebellious and provocative themes, i.e graffiti scribbles formed the starting point of the exhibition "The Dirty Words" in 1977. The list of insults the exhibition was based on included "Queer" as a reminder of homophobia in society. Criticism of the normative hetero society followed in explicit photo shoots throughout the 1980s. The depiction of all aspects of the vulnerable human being, including taboos such as body fluids and excrement, was clear in the 1990s, where they among other things, were profoundly engaged in the AIDS issue.
Gilbert & George pilot us through a bleak society and comment on the social norms and categories along the way. The existential issues of identity, society and religion are raised in a confrontational and brutally direct way. They share their observations of human exposure, fears, hopes and fantasies with a wide audience during slogans Art for Life's Sake and Art for All.
(Photo: Ben Westoby)