Gilbert & George (Gilbert Prousch, San Martino in Badia, 1943, & George Passmore, Plymouth, 1942) met in 1967 at St. Martin’s School of Art in London. They moved to the working class neighborhood of Spitalfields out of opposition to the conformism of society and the art system. By adopting irreverence, provocation and scandal with a coherence that verges on the Gesamtkunstwerk, the two artists mock middleclass conventions with bodily exhibitions that oscillate between ironic and narcissistic self-indulgence, sharing the stage of the work with biblical quotations, grotesque dreams, insolence and the vividness of sexually suggestive behavior, interspersed with representations of human fluids (blood, urine, semen). A mixture of English humor and strictly politically incorrect incendiary language that they labeled from the start as “Art for All”, describing themselves as “living sculptures”. In the early 1970s their works consisted of small black-and-white images installed in figurative patterns.
In the mid-1970s they adopted orthogonal grids in their photographic compositions. After black and white and the privileged use of red, in the 1980s Gilbert & George also became receptive to color and increased the scale of their works, which gradually acquired the appearance of monumental photographic frescoes, made up of a number of panels assembled to compose the final image. Their approach was renewed with the advent of virtual imagery, which was contaminated with and exploded in the “body” of the work with renewed virulence. From this last stage come New Horny Pictures (2001), evoking advertisements for mercenary sex, collected, classified and then articulated by the artists in striking compositions. After the London terrorist attacks (2005), Gilbert & George begin to collect posters for the London “Evening Standard”, which became an integral part of the series Six Bomb Pictures.
The Jack Freak Pictures, devised by the two artists after the major retrospective that the Tate Modern devoted to them in 2007, included the work in the collection, Up the Wall (2008), dominated by the motif of the Union Jack: traditionally evoked to reaffirm the values of conservative Britishness, politically and socially used as an emblem of an entrenched nationalism, the Union Jack is tweaked in an ironic key by the two artists, so sabotaging its symbolic rhetoric. Reduced to a decorative pattern, it appears on medals, amulets, the road map of East London, where the artists have lived and worked since the 1960s, and the city’s walls themselves.
Gilbert & George have long been associated with the city of Naples. They were invited for the first time by Lia Rumma (London Fog, 1974) and later by Lucio Amelio (Bloody Life, 1975; Dark Shadow, 1977), and subsequently exhibited several times at the Galleria Alfonso Artiaco (New Testamental Pictures, 1998; Jack Freak Pictures, 2009; The Urethra Postcard Pictures, 2011; London Pictures 2012). A solo exhibition was devoted to them by Museo Nazionale of Capodimonte in 1998.