It was love at first sight, George later said of his first meeting with Gilbert at Saint Martin’s Art School in 1967.
George said he was the only student who understood Gilbert’s Italian accent. Yet, it was more than just language, the pair complemented each other and were soon inseparable.
Gilbert believed they needed each other, as when the left St. Martin’s they were lost, they didn’t know how to start their artistic careers.
We were outsiders. We were regarded as some eccentrics who would do art that doesn’t fit in.
George thought that together they were stronger.
The lone artist has a problem because you have to ask questions. If you’re an artist painting a picture, he has to decide whether to have another cow in the corner, or not. And no answer comes back, of course.
With two people, it’s very easy. You ask the question, somebody gives the answer.
In 1969, Gilbert and George performed their first work of art as “Living Sculptures.” They stood on a raised stage and sang “Underneath the Arches,” an old music hall number made famous by the comedy double act Flanagan and Allen.
Over the next four decades, Gilbert and George produced a body of work that made the pair among the most iconic artists in the world.
“Ninety-nine per cent of the people involved in looking at our pictures are not collectors and would never think of being,” says George.
“They go to exhibitions of our work and buy catalogues and videos of us. When we say ‘Art for All’ we mean more an art which is addressing the issues that are inside us all of us.”
“An art,” says Gilbert, “that is not elitist, and that is not based on the inner circle of the art world; that ordinary people are able to come in and get something from.”
In 2007, Tate Modern curated a major retrospective of forty years of work by Gilbert and George. To tie in with the exhibition, the BBC made a documentary for its arts series Imagine called “Gilbert and George: No Surrender,” in which presenter Alan Yentob met with and interviewed the artists at home, in their studio, and in preparation for their show.
Previously on Dangerous Minds
Gilbert and George: Living Sculptures