Eight things to know about Gilbert & George RA

Published 1 December 2017

With a new show at White Cube Bermondsey, the artistic duo tell us eight things about their lives, art, fame, bigots, liberals, Brexit, and their favourite East End Turkish restaurant.

  • From the Winter 2017 issue of RA Magazine, issued quarterly to Friends of the RA.

    1. They’ve been together for 50 years

    Gilbert & George met 50 years ago at St Martin’s School of Art in the “swinging London” of the Sixties. They hit it off immediately (“well, roughly”, qualifies Gilbert) and have been living and making art together ever since. When they started out, “anything could be art for the first time”, rhapsodises George. “You weren’t stuck with a brush in your hand, or a chisel. You could be free. We still believe in that: art means free speech in some way.”

    2. They’ve made a career of sticking the middle finger up

    The idea of “free speech” has been an enduring theme for the artistic duo. They are vociferously anti-establishment and their work often sticks a middle finger up to “the frowning classes”. In Gilbert’s words, “all of these artworks that we do are disturbing… we disturb the liberals inside the bigots and the bigots inside the liberals.”

    3. They’re currently thinking a lot about beards

    “The whole idea of beards and no beards represents East and West in some way. Beards indicate class and religion”, explains Gilbert. One of their current exhibitions, The Beard Pictures and their Fuckosophy at White Cube Bermondsey centres on a group of provocative works riffing on the different cultural connotations of beards. “It depends on where you’re living and when”, adds George. “When I was a teenager you wouldn’t get a job with a beard. But around Brick Lane on Saturdays and Sundays, all the girls want a bearded boy with shorts! Extraordinary.”

  • 4. …and about the state of today’s culture

    “The arts are so big these days, part of entertainment for the middle classes”, says Gilbert, “but in general, there is very little else except eating, restaurants… People today are all bored in front of the computer; every job is just the computer. Horrific, we feel”. On the other hand, says George, “It is a much more gentle kind of world because of culture. From when we were baby artists, from 1967 until now, the whole world has changed so much. It’s extraordinary. Nobody says, ‘Who the fuck are you looking at?’ on the street anymore. All of that horrible behaviour has gone. We are much more gentle and civilised.”

    • Watch this next

      In this video, Gilbert & George RA discuss their art and vision with the RA’s Artistic Director, Tim Marlow – a recording of our event from April 2017.

      Gilbert & George in conversation with Tim Marlow
  • 5. They’re happy about Brexit

    “It seems it’s going to work, doesn’t it?” says George. “It’s not right”, adds Gilbert, “the whole idea that you are not allowed to leave”. Leaving the EU, argues George, should be more like leaving a private members club. “If you leave your West End club, the manager comes in and says, ‘I’m so sorry that you’re leaving us, is there anything we can do to help?’ It’s very simple.”

    6. They don’t care about being popular

    Gilbert & George have always wanted to be famous, but not necessarily popular. “No-one says to us on the street, ‘Excuse me, aren’t you the popular artists?’” explains Gilbert. “They always say, ‘Excuse me, aren’t you the famous artists?’” But it matters to the duo that their work is accessible. “We speak to people. We speak to the frowning classes too. They don’t approve but we’re speaking to them.”

  • Gilbert & George RA receive their Academicians' medals at Burlington House

    Gilbert & George RA receive their Academicians' medals at Burlington House

    Photo: Getty Images / Tristan Fewings

  • 7. They’re creatures of habit

    They’ve eaten at Mangal, a Turkish restaurant in Dalston, every evening for years on end. “We’re very loyal”, says George. They never look at the menu. “We order the same thing night after night until we’re nearly vomiting, and then we change.”

    8. They don’t believe in travelling abroad

    “Foreign holidays are what the frowning classes have”, says George, disdainfully. They have lived and worked in the same house in East London, “with the same telephone number”, for the past 50 years, and prefer not to stray too far from it. “We never feel the need to go West. Not even the West End,” says Gilbert. “We’re scared of the provinces, anyway”, adds George.

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