An original, unique and controversial British art duo consisting of Gilbert Proesch
and George Pasmore
, who won the Turner Prize
in 1986 and resemble British television comedians Morecambe and Wise
, who never won the Turner Prize ever. This was on account of the fact that Eric Morecambe died a few months before the very first Turner Prize contest was held. The first Turner Prize winner was a man called Malcolm Morley who won the Turner Prize in November of 1984. Gilbert & George were also shortlist for that year's Turner Prize but they did not win. They have not been shortlisted since 1986, perhaps because past winners cannot be shortlisted again - I do not know.
Gilbert & George are controversial partly for their manner - they dress in identical brown suits and speak with upper-class accents - but mainly for their most famous works of art, many of which take the form of gigantic photographic collages of naked men, excrement, naked men and excrement, excrement in the shape of crosses, naked men arranged in the shape of crosses whilst excrement floats by in the background, swear-words, other bodily emissions, and combinations of the aforementioned. The contrast between the duo's calm manner and the shocking nature of their pictures has not found universal favour with critics, some of whom maintain that Gilbert and George are novelty smut-peddlars. And there is a persistent feeling that, as Billy Bragg sang in 'Take Down the Union Jack', "Gilbert & George are taking the piss, aren't they?"
Gilbert is from the Dolomites in Italy and was born in 1943, whilst George was born in Devon in 1942. George wears glasses and is bald, whilst Gilbert does not and is not. George is tall; Gilbert is short. They are inseperable. During the first few years of their career they occasionally exhibited as 'George & Gilbert'.
They first met at St Martin's school of art in the late 60s, and quickly gathered a cult following for their 'Singing Sculpture' performances. These involved the duo painting their faces to look like bronze statues, whilst miming with stiff, robotic movements to a gramophone playing a copy of 'Underneath the Arches', stopping only to restart the record. Often these performances would last for a full working day; they occassionaly revisit this early work, and the influence on Kraftwerk and those robotic dancers is obvious.
Since then they have become widely known for their aforementioned collages, all of which have thick black grid-lines and resemble stained-glass windows. The collages are physically very large (often eight or more feet square), created from hand-coloured black and white photographs and are immediately recognisable and much-parodied. The cover of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers' 'Blood Sugar Sex Magik', for example, bears some similarity to Gilbert and George's work*.
The use of skinhead youths, and the iconic poses that the models often strike, have led to allegations of fascism and homophobia, something the artists deny.
For the last three decades they have lived on Fournier Street in Shoreditch, predating the area's current trendiness. If you work in the area they are a familiar sight. Every morning they eat at the same cafe. They are an interesting illustration of how the only difference between high art and the kind of people in public places who shout passages from the book in their heads is whether the subject went to a prestigious art college or not.
There are persistent rumours that, every weekend, they take off their suits, put on jeans and leather jackets, and drive sports cars back home to their wives.
Curiously, for a while during 1999 and 2000 the duo had a fairly good website at http://www.gilbertandgeorge.co.uk/ , which appears to have vanished from the face of the earth.
* Thanks to StrawberryFrog for thinking of a familiar real-world example.