Many of Gilbert & George’s pictures in the 1980s include a cast of young men. Having installed special lighting equipment in their studio, they were able to capture images of the youths with a greater degree of control. ‘We devoted all our power to making them totally beautiful’, they have said. ‘Even at the time, some would go to openings or exhibitions, and would be very disappointed that we hadn’t used them. But they were there, in the pictures. The context, the colouration and the lighting made it hard for them to recognise themselves.’
In pictures such as THE WALL or WORLD, the youths are arranged into powerful compositions reminiscent of social realism, their eyes gazing earnestly into the future, living embodiments of potency and strength. In others, such as THERE, they pose like pastoral swains. Such depictions of young men aroused considerable hostility among critics, who accused Gilbert & George of being exploitative, and erroneously described the youths as rent boys or East End thugs. ‘The critics never saw the pictures for what they were. I think that through them we simply brought out their own problems with young people’, the artists have said.
A.D. was a tribute to their friend, the artist and poet David Robilliard, who died of AIDS. ‘Each element is a fragment of his body’ they explained. ‘It’s him, from head to foot. It’s very haunting. Because you think it’s a mouth, with an arsehole in the middle, but in fact it’s a belly button.’