George was born in Devon in 1942. Gilbert was born in Italy in 1943, in a small village in the Dolomites. They met as students on the sculpture course at St Martins School of Art, London, where they exhibited together and soon began to create art together. They adopted the identity of ‘living sculptures’ in both their art and their daily lives, becoming not only creators, but also the art itself.
They established their reputation in 1969 with THE SINGING SCULPTURE. Standing together on a table, they danced and sang the Flanagan and Allen standard ‘Underneath the Arches’ – a song in which two tramps describe the pleasures of sleeping rough. It was a telling choice, harking back to prewar England and traditions of vaudeville, while also identifying with the fringes of society. Gilbert & George were invited to present THE SINGING SCULPTURE all over the world, sometimes for eight hours at a stretch. Realising, however, that they could reach only a handful of people at a time, they began to create films and pictures that could extend the idea of living sculpture without requiring their physical presence.
Gilbert & George have made art together since the 1970s to create startling and challenging images and pictures that confront the viewers with critical issues of our times. From the beginning, they wanted to communicate beyond the narrow confines of the art world, adopting the slogan “Art For All.”
Almost all of the images they use are gathered within walking distance of their home in London’s East End. Yet, their pictures capture a broad human experience, encompassing an astonishing range of emotions and themes, from rural idylls to gritty images of a decaying city; from fantastical brightly colored panoramas to raw examinations of humanity stripped bare; from sex advertisements to religious fundamentalism.
Gilbert & George use feces to make the private public, break social taboos, show contempt for established norms, and make a statement about social ills. For them, feces also function as a metaphor for artistic struggle.
Gilbert & George create deliberately provocative work that is harshly critical of society and its taboos. Seen in this light, the artists’ scatological works can be read in three ways: as a “dirty joke,” as a source of irreverent humor, or as a means of protest.