Around 1974, Gilbert & George began to make ordered rectangular grids of their imagery, a format that they have followed and developed to the present day. Another innovation was the introduction of colour. Having trained as sculptors, they were initially uncertain about how to use colour, adding only red to their black and white compositions. ‘We were looking for a more powerful image. Red has more strength than black. Black and white is powerful but red on top of it is even more so. It’s louder’, they have said.
The CHERRY BLOSSOM pictures, created in 1974, show the artists lying prone or hemmed in by bamboo sticks, often surrounded by bleak images of empty city streets. The combination of red and black, arranged in powerful crosses or squares, gives these pictures a sense of coiled force, ready to break into violence. The title, according to the artists, evoked the East and the extreme discipline of martial arts. ‘Like a young soldier – cherry blossom is the first to appear and, sadly, the first to fall’, they explained.
In the BLOODY LIFE pictures, from the following year, Gilbert & George strike poses with clenched fists and legs kicking. Even the introspective image of the artists in BLOODY LIFE NO.3 is embedded within a frame of alcohol and the boxing ring. The brutality of these pictures reflects their experience at the time. ‘We went through this big destructive period of the drunken scenery, exploring ourselves, exploring our dark side, going out, getting drunk, all those destructive elements’, they remembered.