THE DIRTY WORDS PICTURES feature images of graffiti taken by Gilbert & George, alongside images of London that are often similarly direct and brutal. They were created in 1977, a time of recession and social discontent, and their raw confrontational energy has been compared to punk, which emerged during the same period. Wandering the city, the artists had begun to collect images, and the power of these pictures derives partly from the way they bring together these fleeting impressions to portray the city as aggressive, decaying and chaotic.
Systematically capturing images of graffiti whenever they saw it, they came to wonder at the intensity of these messages and what moved people to write them. ‘There’s very few people who actually go out and write sexual things on the wall, but it must be an amazing driving force’, they have said. These insults scrawled in the street, they felt, harnessed a power more primal and shocking than any of the stunts perpetrated by avant-garde artists at the time.