Gilbert & George

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File:Gilbert and george.jpg
Gilbert & George. Photograph: Pierre Arnaud, 2004.

Gilbert Proesch (born in South Tyrol, Italy, September 11, 1943) and George Passmore (born in England January 8, 1942), better known as Gilbert & George, are artists. They have worked almost exclusively as a pair.

Early life

Gilbert was born in St. Martin in Thurn/Dolomites in South Tyrol/Italy, and studied art at the Wolkenstein School of Art and Hallein School of Art, Austria and the Akademie der Kunst, Munich, before moving to England. George was born in Plymouth in the United Kingdom, and first studied art at the Dartington Hall College of Art and the Oxford School of Art, then part of the Oxford College of Technology, which eventually became Oxford Brookes University.

The two first met on 25th September 1967 while studying sculpture at St Martins School of Art, now Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, one of six colleges in the University of the Arts, London. The two claim they came together because George was the only person who could understand Gilbert's rather poor spoken English. In a 2002 interview with The Daily Telegraph they said of their meeting: "it was love at first sight." (Telegraph, 2002.05.28). It is widely assumed that Gilbert & George are lovers, although they always dismiss questions about their sex lives.

Performance artists

They were initially known as performance artists. While still students they made The Singing Sculpture (1970), for which they covered themselves in gold metallic paint, stood on a table, and mimed to a recording of Flanagan and Allen's song "Underneath the Arches", sometimes for hours at a time.

A number of works from the early 1970s consisted of the two of them getting drunk, usually on gin. Smashed (1973) was a set of photographs documenting a drunken evening, while Gordon's Makes Us Drunk is a film of the pair drinking Gordon's gin and listening to Elgar and Grieg, occasionally saying "Gordon's makes us very drunk" or a slight variant thereof. This work, in common with many others by Gilbert and George, is executed in a completely deadpan way.

The matching business suits which they wore for these performances became a sort of uniform for them, and they rarely appear in public unless wearing them. It is also virtually unheard of for one of the pair to be seen without the other. They refuse to disassociate their performances from their everyday lives, insisting that everything they do is art. The pair regard themselves as "living sculptures". In a 2001 interview with Tom O'Toole on Mid-West Radio, a local radio station in the west of Ireland, the pair stated that the living sculptures idea came to them from a visit to Knock Shrine, Co. Mayo Ireland where it is believed that an apparition of the Blessed Virgin, saints and angels occurred in 1879. It was reported on the "Weekly Arts" programme on Mid-West Radio on 14th February 2007 that Gilbert and George have recently accepted a commission for a piece of installation art which is to be located at the apparition site.


The pair are perhaps best known for their large scale photo-montages, such as Cosmological Pictures (1993), frequently tinted in extremely bright colours, backlit, and overlaid with black grids so as to resemble stained glass windows. Gilbert & George themselves often feature in these works, along with flowers and youths, their friends, and echoes of Christian symbolism. The early works in this style were in black and white, with red and yellow touches in later series. Later these works moved to use a range of bold colours. Their 2005 work, Sonofagod, has returned to a more sombre and darker palette.

Some series of their pictures have attracted media attention through including potentially shocking imagery, including nudity, depictions of sexual acts, and bodily fluids, such as faeces, urine and semen. The titling of their series, such as "Naked Shit Pictures" (1995), has also contributed to media attention. In 1986 Gilbert and George attracted criticism from left-wing commentators for a series of works seemingly glamorizing 'rough types' of London's East End such as skinheads, while a picture of an Asian man bore the derogatory title "Paki".

For many years they have been residents of Fournier Street, Spitalfields, East London. In 2000 they moved galleries to be represented by White Cube.


They won the Turner Prize in 1986, and represented the UK at the 2005 Venice Biennale.


  • Martin Clunes, while a struggling young actor in the early 1980s, was a photo model for Gilbert and George. He can be recognised in their 1983 work 'World'.
  • The pair assumed ownership of a working men's cafe in Spitalfields near their house in the 1990s. For a time they were often to be found in the cafe and even serving behind the counter.
  • They have their own dance called the 'bend-it'.
  • George was briefly married to a young art student in 1967, until about 1972. They separated but never divorced, because the marriage had produced two children.
  • The pair own one of the most powerful graphics workstation computers in the UK, needed to manipulate the huge file-sizes that producing their work requires.
  • The pair inspired two characters, Man Green and Man Yellow, Chief Constables of the Science Gestapo, in Grant Morrison's comicbook series The Filth. The two characters appear in pastiches of Gilbert and George's artwork, with the separate sections of the photo montages acting as individual comic book panels.
  • They have dinner in the same Kurdish restaurant in Dalston at the same time every night. George walks there while Gilbert sometimes takes a cab. [1]
  • The look Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart adopted in the early career of Eurythmics (both dressed in men's suits and ties) was said to be inspired by Gilbert and George.
  • Billy Bragg, socialist English pop singer, refers to Gilbert and George in the chorus of "Take Down the Union Jack" on the 2002 album English, Half English.

Further reading

  • Gilbert & George: The Complete Pictures, Rudi Fuchs, Tate Publishing, 2007. ISBN 9781854376817
  • Daniel Farson (2000). Gilbert and George: A Portrait. HarperCollins. London, 2000.

External links