Catalogue entry

T03452 The Nature of Our Looking 1970

Permanganate splashes, graphite red and black chalk on five separate sheets of paper.
(1) ‘THE NATURE OF OUR LOOKING’, 103 × 46 (2630 × 1180)
Inscribed ‘George and Gilbert/June 1970'/London’ b.1.
(2) ‘THE NATURE OF OUR LOOKING’, 103 × 35 (2630 × 900)
Inscribed ‘George and Gilbert/June/1970’ b.r. Sheet no.5
Inscribed ‘George and Gilbert June London/1970’ b.r.
Inscribed ‘George and Gilbert/June 1970'/London’ b.1.
(5) ‘WE BELIEVE THAT LOVE is the PATH for a Better WORLD of ART in which GOOD and BAD GIVE WAY for GEORGE and GILBERT TO BE’, 110 × 143 (2785 × 5620).
Inscribed ‘George and Gilbert/June 1970’/London b.l.
Each of the five sheets is inscribed ‘Art for All 1970 The Sculptors Gilbert and George’ along the bottom.
Purchased from Anthony d'Offay Ltd (Grant-in-Aid) 1982
Prov: Barbara Neusse, Germany, 1970; Anthony d'Offay Gallery through Konrad Fischer Gallery, Düsseldorf, 1981
Exh: Frozen into the Nature for Your Art, Françoise Lambert Gallery, Milan, June–July 1970, Heiner Friedrich Gallery, Cologne, Autumn 1970 (no catalogue); Gilbert and George 1968–1980, Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, November–December 1980, Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf, January 1981, Kunsthalle, Bern, February 1981 (repr.); Westkunst, Cologne, May–August 1981 (830, one panel (‘Here in the country's heart ... ’) repr. p.489); Gilbert and George, Richard Long and Bruce McLean, Anthony d'Offay, May–June 1982 (no catalogue); New Art at the Tate Gallery, Tate Gallery, September–October 1983 (no in catalogue); Gilbert and George The Charcoal on Paper Sculptures 1970–1974, Musée d'Art Contemporain, Bordeaux, May–September 1986 (3, repr.)

During the summer of 1970, a friend of Gilbert and George took a series of photographs of the artists in the countryside near Colchester on the Suffolk-Essex border. These formed the basic imagery of ‘The Nature of Our Looking’ which was executed in London at their Studio, ‘Art for All’, 12 Fournier Street, Spitalfields. In an interview with Démosthène Darretas (Gilbert and George, the Charcoal on Paper Sculptures 1970–1974, cited above) the artists commented, ‘We did not know at that time how to make large photo-pieces. Still, each ‘Charcoal-on-Paper’ piece is based upon a photograph broadly enlarged by drawing.’

Known as a ‘charcoal-on-paper sculpture’, ‘The Nature of Our Looking’ is the third work by Gilbert and George in this medium. It is composed of five parts, each section created by joining together small pieces of paper with masking tape, to produce mural-sized sheets of paper. The smaller units of paper measure from 17 1/4 × 23 to 17 3/4 × 23 1/2 and are arranged in a grid pattern, which is clearly visible. This arrangement enables the sheets to be folded in upon themselves and to be packed neatly into an accompanying cardboard storage case. This box is labelled ‘Art for All Gilbert and George’ and facilitates easy handling and storage of T03452 as well as protecting the fragile sheets. Gilbert and George had previously used a box to carry work in 1969. This was their ‘Life-Box’ which functioned as an artist's portfolio.

The paper of T03452 has been artificially antiqued with permanganate splashes creating localised areas of brown discolouration. This ageing effect can be found in ‘All my life I give you nothing and still you ask for more’ (1970, Anthony d'Offay) and ‘Walking, Viewing, Relaxing’ (1970, private collection, Germany). In the booklet, ‘The Pencil on Paper, Descriptive Works of Gilbert and George’ 1970 by Gilbert and George, the sculptors talk of ‘the potential life of that paper’.

The ‘Nature of Our Looking’ initiates the compositional formula of the image, bordered along the bottom with extracts of language, which is subsequently adopted in later charcoal-on-paper works such as ‘The General Jungle’ (1971, Sonnabend Gallery, New York).

The hand-printed text of T03452 incorporates upper and lower case letters, while in later works only capital letters are used. The text in the section listed number 3, is adapted from Norman Gale's ‘The Country Faith’ (The Collected Poems of Norman Gale 1914):

Here in the country's heart
Where the grass is green,
Life is the same sweet life
As it e'er hath been.

Gilbert and George also used the above text in their 18 minute video sculpture ‘The Nature of Our Looking’ (1970, Anthony d'Offay) and for the video's accompanying announcement card.

Along the top edge of each piece, loops of red satinized ribbon are used to hang the piece. These are fixed on the reverse with red sealing wax, similar to that used by Gilbert and George in their postal-sculptures of 1969. In the 1986 interview with Démosthène Darretas, the artists said:

They were not drawings. They were more like a means of communicating with the world around us. As if we had been writing huge letters. We thought of them as big letters or documents.

Gilbert and George have used a hanging arrangement for T03452 which is centred on the large horizontal piece, flanked by the two smaller vertical pieces, and adjacent to these, the larger vertical pieces, as can be seen below:

small vertical
large horizontal
small vertical
large vertical
large vertical

This arrangement, though favoured by Gilbert and George, is not obligatory.

A reworking of T03452 can be found in the ‘Painting Sculpture’, ‘The Painting (with Us in the Nature)’ 1971 (collection Gilbert and George). This consists of six triptychs in oil on canvas; the triptych format echoes the preferred arrangement of the horizontal and two small vertical panels in T03452. On the accompanying guide to the painting, Gilbert and George wrote ‘It was the summer of 1970. Then came the winter and we re-created these senses.’ The reworking consists of a transposition from black-and-white into colour of the same imagery - the self portraits, George's walking stick and the countryside.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986