Gilbert & George

Balls: The Evening Before the Morning After - Drinking Sculpture


Not on display

Gilbert & George born 1943, born 1942
114 photographs, gelatin silver prints on paper
Displayed: 2108 × 4382 mm
Purchased 1972

Display caption

'We want our art to speak across the barriers of knowledge directly to People about their Life, and not about their knowledge of art' wrote Gilbert and George in their manifesto What Our Art Means (1986). Drinking, and getting drunk, was an early theme in their work. This photographic work was made when the artists were still experimenting with different media for the creation of 'living sculpture'. The photographs were taken at Balls Brothers Wine Bar in Bethnal Green Road, the artists' local drinking haunt. The images are distorted, fragmented and blurred to evoke
the experience of being drunk.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Gilbert and George b.1943, b. 1942

T01701 Balls: The Evening Before the Morning After – Drinking Sculpture 1972

The central photograph has the inscription ‘“BALLS”/or/The Evening before the Morning after/Autumn 1972/A Drinking Sculpture/George and Gilbert’; on the back of each frame is a label with the inscription: ‘Gilbert George [the names separated by’ the Royal crest / The Sculptors / Autumn 1972 / 114 PART PHOTO-PIECE / ENTITLED / BALLS / “ART FORALL” / 12 Fournier Street London E1.01–2470161’.

114 monochrome photographs mounted between glass and card, the edges sealed by passé-partout, overall size 83 x 172½ (211 x 438).
Purchased from Nigel Greenwood Inc. Ltd (Grant-in-Aid) 1972.
Exh: Nigel Greenwood, November-December 1972 (works not numbered); Henry Moore to Gilbert & George, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, 1973 (121,repr.).

The following entries on T 1701, T 1702, T 1703, T 1704 are based on an interview between the artists and the compiler on 4 February 1974.

The 114 photographs comprise 10 photographs of 12 in. x 15 in, 20 of 10 in. x 12 in., 19 of 8 in. x 10 in., 46 of 6½ in.x8½ in. and 19 of 4½ in. x 5 in. The title frame and the three frames containing sayings are edged with brown passé-partout; the remaining images with black passé-partout.

‘Balls’ is not the first of Gilbert and George’s photographic works; it was preceded by several works on the subject of London parks. The photographs for ‘Balls’ were taken in Autumn 1972 in Balls Brothers Bar, 369 Bethnal Green Road, London, which Gilbert and George had been frequenting for some time. The bar has since closed. All the photographs except those which show the artists were taken by Gilbert and George; the photographs of the artists were taken by a non-professional photographer whom they had occasionally used to take photographs for other photographic pieces. The artists were asked how they chose particular objects in the bar to photograph and they replied that they were looking for the sort of thing that would make a good photograph, the things that caught their eye. Pinned to the walls of the bar were printed sayings, and the artists reproduce three which read:

‘Just having a pint of throat varnish for a start.’

‘You’re not here to have one with us so we’re sending you one... sup off!’


‘Waiter!a cock-tail.’

‘Garcon! Un vermouth cassis.’

The photographs were taken by arrangement with the people who ran the bar, at a time when it was closed to the public. Gilbert was drinking Coca-Cola, George nothing.

Gilbert and George themselves processed, enlarged, masked and printed the photographs in their dark room at ‘Art for All’, Fournier Street. The size of most of the photographs was determined by the size of commercially available photographic paper, and the artists decided intuitively which size to use for each photographic print. Nearly all the photographs which appear in the work are details selected from the relevant negatives. The original negatives would produce straightforward photographs in focus and with no optical illusions. In printing the photographs for the work, Gilbert and George introduced strange effects and distortions, such as lack of focus to represent a drinker’s perception when drunk. The artists determined the appearance of the prints and the types of distortion intuitively, in the darkroom. They commented that taking the photographs in the bar was a straightforward procedure and that it was only afterwards when they were working with the negatives that the process became creative for them.

The artists framed each photograph individually since they intended that each should convey a particular meaning. They used passé-partout for framing because they consider it the simplest method. They worked out the configuration of the photographs of ‘Balls’ while they were hanging the work for its first exhibition (Nigel Greenwood, November-December 1972). They knew in advance that they wanted to display the photographs in roughly the shape of an oval, but the exact arrangement was determined intuitively during the installation, and then became the work’s permanent form.

Gilbert and George said that until they began to try to communicate their work to the public they had both been unaccustomed to drinking alcohol. George said that he had been almost teetotal. They started to drink because they found that drink was a catalyst of communication, a way of presenting their work to the public. They consider drinking to be a duty rather than a pleasure and that drinking has been now for sometime a part of their work.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1972–1974, London 1975.

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