Gilbert & George
Biography of British Performance Artists.
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Sporting Life (2008)
Gilbert Proesch & George Passmore
White Cube, London

Gilbert & George (b.1943, 1942)

Contents

Introduction
Training
Living Sculptures
The Pictures
Jack Freak Pictures
Other Key Artworks by Gilbert & George
Awards
Reputation


POSTERS
Graphics by Gilbert & George
are also widely available online
in the form of poster art.

WORLDS BEST PAINTERS
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CONTEMPORARY PAINTING
For the best works, see:
Greatest 20th-Century Paintings.

Introduction

The British postmodernist artists Gilbert Proesch and George Passmore perform as a duo under the name Gilbert & George. Disillusioned with studio-sculpture and museum-type statues, they began by creating pieces of performance art - like The Singing Sculpture (1970) - in which they were 'living sculptures'. In their particular form of postmodernist art they are both the subject matter and the medium, their image being in contrast to their exaggeratedly conventional real-life selves. Since the mid-1970s, Gilbert & George have produced large-scale graphic works, often featuring photo-based self-portraits juxtaposed with imagery of a nationalistic and scatological nature, set in bold outlines and vivid colour. Art critics loved them, and they became Turner Prize Winners in 1986. Since then, their controversial, contradictory and provocative contemporary art has attracted a significant following all over the world. In an interview published in 2002, in the London Daily Telegraph, they described their first meeting in 1967 as love at first sight. In 2005, they represented Britain at the Venice Biennale. Recently they stated that they were married in 2008. They are represented by White Cube Gallery.

 

 

Early Life

Born and raised in Italy, Gilbert Proesch (b.1943) trained at the Wolkenstein and Hallein Schools of Art in Austria, as well as the Academy of Art in Munich, before moving to England. George Passmore (b.1942) meanwhile was brought up by a single mother in Plymouth. He studied at Dartington College and the Oxford School of Art. The pair met up and became friends in 1967 at St Martins School of Art, where they were studying sculpture. They were among the first artists to settle in the East End of London: indeed, most of their art has been centred, literally and metaphorically, on the East End, which they regard as a microcosm of British society, if not the world.

Living Sculptures

In 1970, whilst still at St Martins School of Art, Gilbert & George created the first of their 'living sculptures' - The Singing Sculpture - which was first performed at Nigel Greenwood Gallery. This innovative instance of conceptual art involved them dressing in suits, dusting their heads and hands with gold and silver powders, standing on a table, and singing/dancing to a recording of "Underneath the Arches" by Flanagan and Allen - sometimes for 8 hours at a stetch. This early performance art became a defining presence in their lives: suits, for instance, became their 'uniform'; neither appears in public without the other, nor will they discuss their art separately from their life, emphasizing that everything they do is art. At the same time they realized that live 'living sculpture' performances could reach only a handful of people at a time. As a result, they started producing films and graphic art that could encapsulate the idea of living sculpture without requiring a physical presence.

The Pictures

Gilbert & George are most famous for their large-scale photo works, known as The Pictures. Beginning with a black and white format, later embellished with hand-painted reds and yellows, they developed this further with bolder colours, occasionally overlaid with black grids. These pictures typically include self portraits of the duo, together with flowers, various symbols, and a wide variety of political, social and physical imagery - much of which is shocking and provocative. During the 1990s their controversial artworks included magnified pictures of their own body fluids. Their work has been labelled racist, perverted, disgusting, left-wing, right-wing, and generally outrageous. A compendium of 1,000 items, entitled The Complete Pictures (1971–2005), was published in 2007 by the Tate Modern.

Jack Freak Pictures

The Jack Freak Pictures are supposedly the most iconic, philosophical and violent works that Gilbert & George have ever produced. Set in the East End of London, the series features two dominant images, manipulated in various ways: The Union Jack (the British Flag) and Gilbert & George.

 

 

Other Key Works by Gilbert & George

Masterworks by the duo can be seen in many of the best art museums around the globe. They include:

- The Nature of Our Looking (1970) Tate Collection, London.
- Bloody Life No 1 (1975) State Art Museum, Copenhagen.
- Red Morning: Trouble (1977) Tate Collection, London.
- Queer (1977) Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam.
- The Alcoholic (1978) Art Institute of Chicago.
- Here (1987) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
- Shitty Naked Human World (1994) Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.

Awards

In addition to numerous Honorary Doctorates and titles, Gilbert & George have won the following awards:

• The 1981 Regione Lazio Award (Torino)
• The 1986 Turner Prize (London)
• The 1989 Special International Award (Los Angeles)
• The 2007 South Bank Award (London)
• The 2007 Lorenzo il Magnifico Award (Florence).

Reputation

The retrospective given to Gilbert & George by the Tate Modern in 2007 was the largest ever retrospective to be held at the museum. It confirmed the importance of their position within the world of British avant-garde art, and arguably as two of the most innovative modern artists of the late 20th century. While their singular, hyper-conventional, artistic image has been characterized by Germaine Greer as one of complete cultural domination of Gilbert by George, a more balanced view might draw attention to the harmonious marriage between George's conceptualism and Gilbert's practical background.

• For biographies of other postmodern artists, see: Famous Painters.
• For more details of conceptualism, see: Homepage.


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