Potty Mouth Creative Part 1
Went with Mark our Art Director to see the press launch yesterday of the Gilbert and George show at London’s Tate Modern. This huge retrospective takes up a whole floor of the massive exhibition space.
The scale of each work is equally enormous and the vast spaces of the gallery rooms give the work a little elbow room. The images are in your face without crowding you out. Because the show is touring around the world, you could catch the conversations in Italian and French as the foreign journalists and film crews chattered away in the gaps between the guided tour from the curators.
I loved them when I was younger, all that anger and sex and swearing and, em… bodily waste, and going back to look at the work wondered whether it’s really a young man’s art.
Some content can be a bit South Park, in that stupid-funny way, but really they are the Super Mario Bros of the art world, they look exactly the same in each work. They are the work. They explored the idea of brand in name, identity and iconography years before brand-thinking colonized business thinking. Born Gilbert Proesch (in Italy) and George Passmore (Plymouth, England) they are ‘Gilbert and George’, and have been for well over thirty years.
(Photograph: Steve Pyke shoots ‘Gilbert and George’ gentlemen of leisure)
But you can see why they are a designer’s artist, from the early beautiful large-scale charcoal drawings to the huge graphically treated photography which dominates their work. It’s hard to think of other major artists (non-photographers) who have worked the medium of photography for so long.
From the very beginning their work was about themselves, about Englishness, about the most basic human urges and feelings. It’s also exploring the limits of image-making, each huge image is deconstructed into individual panels, into a grid. This was partly due to the printing materials and technologies available to them, but what you see on the show is an improvised form of visual storytelling, with different and clashing imagery held together within the larger frame. As their work develops you begin to see emerging the storytelling heritage of religious stained-glass windows.
Walking around with Mark, I realized that it’s not just the grid structure that makes Gilbert and George the ultimate graphic designers-as-artists, or their graphic use of color, or the art-making as solution-finding. It’s the constant swearing.
I guess it’s why Mark bought the Gilbert and George swear-box from the gift shop on the way out.