Gilbert & George
Since 1965, when Gilbert and George met and began working and living together, they have merged their identities so completely that one never thinks of one without the other; no surnames, individual biographies, or separate bodies of work hinder their unique twinship. Furthermore, they make no distinction between their life and their art; they are their own works of art. In 1967 they began public appearances in the guise of “living sculptures”: identically attired in proper business suits, their faces and hands covered with a metallic patina, they paraded themselves at cultural events (they later toured to museums and galleries) playing the game of robotized bronze statues that mirrored the spectacle of art in popular culture. The range of their art has grown to include photography, drawing, painting, written texts, film, and performance. Their presence is clearly felt in their work, which often includes self-portraits.
In the large photo-piece Dream (1984), the two artists appear with a beautiful young man from London’s East End (where Gilbert and George live and where they find many of their male models) who poses as an archetype of youth and innocence. In their roles as both patrons and worshippers they playfully exploit the tradition of ecclesiastical stained-glass window imagery, which their photographic works have mimicked since the early 1970s. Their technique—collaging black-and-white photographs that are dyed with lurid colors and overlaid with a modernist grid—synthesizes religious, popular-culture, and high-art motifs in order to render their message as directly as possible. In Dream and many related works, Gilbert and George use the particulars of East End society and the British urban homosexual experience, filtered through their own personal experiences, to create contemporary allegories. They include their own images in order to cast themselves as symbolic stand-ins for a larger group.