AN INTRODUCTION TO THE ART OF GILBERT & GEORGE
Gilbert and George are two men who together are one artist: Gilbert & George.
The vision of Gilbert & George is their art, of which they are the embodiment. Therefore Gilbert & George are the art of Gilbert & George. The art of Gilbert & George is based upon feelings, thoughts, and intellect.
Gilbert & George are a total modern independent visionary artist, alone.
The vision of Gilbert & George is firstly their singular and particular way of seeing, experiencing and celebrating life. The vision of Gilbert & George is also and simultaneously their way of seeing and creating art.
The inspiration and subject of the art of Gilbert & George is modern life. The life of Gilbert & George is art.
Gilbert & George, with the viewer, explore and test their feelings in their art.
Gilbert & George see the modern human condition. Acceleration, religion, politics, business, dullness, leisure, celebration, violence, money, history, poverty, age, sex, work, hope, newness, sickness, desire, intoxication, beauty, dereliction, love, despair; the radicalized world; the virtual world. They see the daily routines and feelings of their fellow citizens, from all backgrounds: the fast modern multi-cultural and multi- technological world. Office workers and junkies. They see the spectrum of human behaviour.
Gilbert & George observe the constantly changing life of our world the way one might observe the weather, or study the ceaseless current of a vast river.
The vision of Gilbert & George is committed to raw realism, but is also deeply romantic: finding heightened or disturbed emotion in ordinary things, in a way that renders the subjects of their art extraordinary and richly atmospheric; individual, yet connected by common feelings. The vision of Gilbert & George derives from the union of lucidity and heightened feeling; their art from the balance of control and loss of control.
In every picture and every ‘Living Sculpture’ the viewer sees the bond between Gilbert & George as profound and absolute. This duality proposes two men brought together by fate as outsiders and seekers-after- truth. Dualism structures the vision and art of Gilbert & George: two men, one artist; control and loss of control; reactionary and radical; traditional and ultra-modern. The singularity of Gilbert & George, therefore, derives from their duality.
There is a magical quality to the union of Gilbert & George, as communicated by their art. The notion of two tramps, always on the outside, with only each other, journeying through life, at times seeming to be stooges of fate, at times cosmic travellers, at times old fashioned song- and-dance men; mystical, vulnerable, supernatural, suffering, ritualistic, universal in their contradictions as much as their constancy. These roles comprise a modern archetype: part seer, part common man, part poet, part rebel-disrupter of complacencies. The art of Gilbert & George is the epic story of two seekers-after-truth, all that they encounter, all that occurs to them, always alone, always together.
Gilbert & George repudiate the reach and influence of art theory as a means of conceiving, creating, ‘solving’ or ‘explaining’ a work of art.
Gilbert & George maintain an ideological opposition to formalistic art theory and the reference of art to the history or theory of art. Asserting instead the power of emotion and actuality, their art addresses subjects that are culturally excluded, neglected or disowned. Their art questions social taboos and morality. By looking at difficult subjects the art and vision of Gilbert & George is intended to ‘de-shock’ rather than seeking to shock. Its aim is not the simple task of ‘shocking’ a viewer, but the difficult task of interrogating a subject and themselves.
The art of Gilbert & George, however poetic or spectacular an individual picture or sculpture may be, is not intended to be an aesthetic, formalist or conceptual statement of any kind, or to be admired for qualities such as colour, composition or artistic reference. By disrupting certainties, their art wishes the viewer to question life and art within themselves and their own experience.
The art and vision of Gilbert & George is not ironic but drawn from a concept of irony: contrast, reversal, paradox, multi-faceted and many- layered.
For Gilbert & George, the modern world is always in broiling volatile restlessness. Their art depicts the modern world as brooding, lonely, disrupted, portentous, mad, cosmic, melancholy, monumental, chaotic, ordinary, desolate, dream-like, dull, monstrous, violent, blasphemous, infinite.
In conveying the intensity of this vision to the viewer, the art of Gilbert & George is empowered by formality rather than formalism. The more formal the demeanour and manner of Gilbert & George, the more intense and direct their communication of extreme emotional states, behaviour, landscape and ideology.
The untameable extremism of Gilbert & George lies within themselves; their suits and ties have accordingly the function of bomb casing. It is the well mannered conservatism of Gilbert & George, their creation of a precisely balanced paradox, a collision of appearance and reality, reversing the reactionary and the radical to declare an autonomous position.
Suited and impassive, blindly stumbling or screaming, Gilbert & George take their places in the visionary landscapes of their art as both participants and witnesses.
Unchanging, they have the appearance and countenance of modern sober-minded, anonymous citizens, who have embarked on the astral journey of their own Divine Comedy: purgatory, Heaven and Hell as they find it and perceive it in our world, in nature and in themselves.
Formality carries the ferocity and determination of this journey just as the singularity of Gilbert & George derives from their duality. The art of Gilbert & George makes the viewer think about art from first principles and primal responses: what does this make me feel and why?
Michael Bracewell – Trustee, The Gilbert & George Centre