Gilbert & George

Faith Drop

1991

Artist
Gilbert & George born 1943, born 1942
Medium
15 photographs, gelatin silver print on paper with dye on paper mounted onto board
Dimensions
Displayed: 2538 x 3540 x 25 mm
Acquisition
ARTIST ROOMS Acquired jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008
Reference
AR00176

Not on display

Summary

Faith Drop is a photographic work by Gilbert & George consisting of fifteen individually framed photographic prints arranged to produce a single image. The frames create thin black lines that form a three by five grid across the composition. In Faith Drop the artists are depicted entirely naked, both kneeling on the upward-facing palms of two giant, outstretched hands that emerge from the left and right sides of the piece. On the left, George, coloured pink with beige genitalia, kneels with legs slightly spread, raising both hands to touch his right and left forefingers together and his right and left thumbs together. In the right of the scene, Gilbert, coloured beige with pink genitalia, kneels with his arms down at his sides. The colour of each giant hand corresponds to the colour of each artist’s genitalia. Surrounding the artists are various brightly coloured religious symbols, sculptures and examples of ecclesiastical architecture shown superimposed onto disk shapes, and these appear against a yellow-tinted, cloudy sky. The title and date of the work, in addition to the artists’ signatures, are printed in the bottom right panel.

The fifteen prints in Faith Drop were developed using the gelatin silver process, which produces black and white images. The photographs were printed on resin-coated paper and later hand-coloured before being dry mounted on thin board and framed in black-painted aluminium frames with Perspex glazing. When exhibited, the framed works are hung on horizontal tracks.

In Faith Drop Gilbert & George present themselves among recognisable faith symbols including rose windows, a Star of David and what may be a Satanic pentagram. The presence of these symbols leads to a reading of the artists’ kneeling poses in terms of religious rituals. During prayer or ceremony, most major faiths employ prostration, which is the arrangement of the body in a submissive position to show reverence. The stance of the artists perhaps refers to double genuflection (going down on both knees) in prayer, a characteristic position of worship in both the Christian and Muslim faiths. Additionally, the use of bright colours and the grid across the artwork together resemble the effects of stained-glass windows, imbuing the work with a devotional quality. Even without this religious interpretation, their poses are certainly submissive and express reverence to an unknown entity. In the pair’s 2000–4 conversations with art critic François Jonquet, George discusses their interest in faith: ‘Perhaps nostalgia for belief in eternal life features in these pictures. A faith that we’ve lost. We’re the first generation not to believe in eternal life.’ (George in François Jonquet, Gilbert & George: Intimate Conversations with François Jonquet, London 2004, p.156.) In this light, the title of the work, as well as the unnatural yellow tint of the sky that encircles the falling religious tokens, takes on a secular tone.

Faith Drop was created as part of Gilbert & George’s series New Democratic Pictures that was exhibited at the Anthony d’Offay Gallery in London in 1991. Ten years previously, Gilbert & George first began including religious symbols in their work in pieces such as CRUSADE 1980 (Tate AR00172), which depicts three crosses formed by wooden chair backs. As religious themes became a recurring motif in the artists’ work, they were often accused of blasphemy. New Democratic Pictures is additionally shocking for its depiction of Gilbert & George entirely naked. Critic David Sylvester’s observation that Gilbert & George were the first artists to show a body ‘naked’ rather than as a classical ‘nude’ may explain why the series was so startling to audiences (see ‘Gilbert & George: Major Exhibition: Room Guide, Room 13’, Tate Modern, London, http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/gilbert-george/gilbert-george-major-exhibition-room-guide/gilbert-11, accessed 3 February 2016). Sylvester’s analysis corresponds well with art historian Kenneth Clark’s interpretation of nudity and nakedness in The Nude: A Study of Ideal Form, in which he asserts that: ‘To be naked is to be deprived of our clothes, and the word implies some of the embarrassment which most of us feel in that condition. The word nude, on the other hand, carries, in educated usage, no uncomfortable overtone’ (Kenneth Clark, The Nude: A Study of Ideal Art, London 1956, p.1). In light of Clark’s analysis and the religious tone of Faith Drop, the artists’ unclothed figures perhaps allude to Adam and Eve’s recognition of their own nakedness after eating fruit from the tree of knowledge. This reading is consistent with Gilbert & George’s own analysis of these works:

When they discuss classical paintings or sculptures, they never say, there’s a naked Roman. It’s always a nude. And these are naked, and we believe there’s a very great difference. Naked isn’t physical, it’s more mental, more frightening.
(Quoted in Tate Modern 2007, p.133.)

Despite their intention to unsettle viewers, New Democratic Pictures is not intended to be pornographic. Art historian Lars Morell argues that viewing the series in this way is a modern tendency and suggests instead that Gilbert & George’s nakedness references ‘a cosmology which is related to medieval folk culture, and … demonstrates that their attitude towards the body is not modern but has much older roots’. (Morell quoted in Jens Erik Sørensen and Anders Kold (eds.), Gilbert & George: New Democratic Pictures, exhibition catalogue, Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Denmark 1992, pp.98–9.)

Further reading
Carter Ratcliff, Gilbert & George: The Complete Pictures, 1971–1985, exhibition catalogue, CAPC Musée d’Art Contemporain de Bordeaux, Bordeaux 1986.
Gilbert & George: The Complete Pictures, 1971–2005, vol.2, London 2007, reproduced p.781.
Gilbert & George: Major Exhibition, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2007, reproduced p.133.

Daisy Silver
The University of Edinburgh
February 2016

The University of Edinburgh is a research partner of ARTIST ROOMS.

Display caption

From the series ‘New Democratic Pictures’, Faith Drop is among the first works in which the artists depict themselves naked. They are shown devoutly on their knees, held aloft on the open palms of giant arms. Falling from the sky are oval-shaped pieces of ecclesiastical architecture, such as rose windows. They bear symbols which reflect many of the world’s religions. The soft pink and warm yellow colours lend the picture an idyllic quality.

Gallery label, February 2010

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