Gilbert & George

Red Morning Trouble


In Tate Britain
Gilbert & George born 1943, born 1942
25 photographs, black and white with dye on paper mounted onto board
Displayed: 3025 x 2525 mm
Presented by Janet Wolfson de Botton 1996 to celebrate the Tate Gallery Centenary 1997


Red Morning Trouble is one in a series of seventeen Red Morning works produced in 1977. It consists of twenty-five abutting photographic panels mounted in narrow black metal frames. The frames were specially designed by the artists to keep the work as flat to the wall as possible. The central image and sixteen panels at the corners (four at each) are black and white. The remaining eight are coloured red and placed in a cross formation. The photographs comprise four elements arranged in a balanced composition: the artists in their shirtsleeves, a blossoming tree seen against the sky, the City of London viewed from across the Thames and close-up pictures of rocks embedded in a wall. The central image, the upside down reflection of a blossoming tree in a puddle, bears the work’s title and the artists’ signature. Above, below and to either side of it are red-tinted images of rocks in concrete, evoking claustrophobic entombment. To either side of these are black and white photographs of London’s City behind large areas of water. Eight of the outer panels contain black and white photographs of the artists standing, hands clasped behind their back or at their front, looking down. They have been positioned so that Gilbert at the top right looks down diagonally towards another Gilbert at bottom left looking downwards in the other direction. Similarly George at top left looks diagonally downwards towards another George at bottom right. Four further outer panels, centrally positioned on each edge, depict the artists looking sideways, to right or left. These panels are adjacent to the images of rocks and are similarly coloured red. The remaining four outer panels depict the budding twigs of a tree seen against the sky. Other titles in the series include the suffixes Death, Dirt, Blood, Scandal, Hell, Hate, Violence, Drowned and Attack.

Gilbert and George met in London in 1967 at St Martin’s School of Art (later Central St Martin’s School of Art and Design) where they were studying sculpture. They immediately found a common ground in the rejection of the prevalent Minimalist and Pop Art movements, in which materials were of primary importance, and the coldness of the Conceptual movement, in which ideas were prioritised over form. In early 1969, at St Martin’s, they presented their first version of what was to become The Singing Sculptures, a performance in which they acted out the lyrics to the Hardy and Hudson version of Flanagan and Allan’s popular English music hall tune of the 1920s, Underneath the Arches, playing the tune on a tape recorder and using a walking stick and a pair of gloves as props. Their first photowork, a Magazine Sculpture portraying ‘George the Cunt’ and ‘Gilbert the Shit’, was also made in that year. They had already assumed the uniform for which they have become known, formal suits of the style typical to the 1950s, with turn-up trousers and buttoned-up jackets. Since this time the combined personas of ‘Gilbert’ and ‘George’ have become their public face and the apparent subject of their art. In a video work made in 1970, A Portrait of the Artists as Young Men (Tate T01704), they appear as the blank, bland face of the unknown city worker, a quintessential urban middle-class type who is all politeness and good breeding and reveals nothing of his inner thoughts or feelings. Together, they claim to be one artist: ‘We don’t think we’re two artists. We think we are an artist.’ (George, quoted in Gilbert & George: The Rudimentary Pictures, exhibition catalogue, Milton Keynes Gallery 1999, [p.5].)

Gilbert and George began making wall-mounted installations of photographs in 1971. At first these were geometric formations of framed photographs with variable spaces between them. The artists photographed each other set against the bare wooden floors and the panelled walls in their home, as well as outdoors in semi rural locations. In such works as Balls: The Evening Before the Morning After – Drinking Sculpture 1972 (Tate T01701), which consists of a composite arrangement of photographs of the artists and their home, drinking and drunkenness became the overt subjects of their work. In 1974, they began to use red, which they call the ‘colour of desperation’ (quoted in Richardson, p.25). By this stage they had formulated the grid structure that they have been using ever since. After drinking, they turned to depression and despair, with series bearing such titles as Bad Thoughts, Bloody Life, Dusty Corners, Dead Boards and Mental. The Red Morning series was made in response to the socialist movement growing in Britain in 1976 and 1977. Gilbert has explained: ‘we felt that Britain was becoming communist, all red. So we did these Red Morning pieces, they were based on that.’ (Quoted in Eccher, p.97.) The Red Morning series are the only works in which the artists appear in their shirtsleeves. They photographed each other in the studio instead of in their Fournier Street home (in London’s east end), the backdrop for many of their earlier images. The abutted-frame format, now standard in their work, was established in this series. It was followed by the Dirty Words series, of which Cunt Scum 1977 (Tate T07406) is an example.

Further reading:
Monique Beudert, Sean Rainbird, Contemporary Art: The Janet Wolfson de Botton Gift, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1998, reproduced (colour) p.29
Danilo Eccher, Gilbert and George, exhibition catalogue, Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Bologna 1996, pp.97-103
Carter Ratcliff, Gilbert and George: The Complete Pictures 1971-1985, London 1986, pp.XXV-XXVI, reproduced (colour) p.102

Elizabeth Manchester
December 2002

Display caption

Gilbert Proesch and George Passmore, known always by their first names, have been collaborating for over thirty years. They met while students at St Martin's School of Art in 1967. They have worked in the media of video, performance, painting, drawing and photography. In 1970 they began calling themselves 'living sculptures' and, wearing conservative suits and striking statuesque poses, became the primary subjects of their art. Red Morning Trouble shows the artists in contemplative attitudes with red and black panels showing reflections in the river and modernist buildings along London's river bank. It is a picture of ordinariness, with the shirt-sleeved artists resembling city workers ready to step out into mundane life.

Gallery label, September 2004

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