Gilbert & George



Not on display

Gilbert & George born 1943, born 1942
16 hand-coloured photographs, gelatin silver print on paper on board
Displayed: 2424 × 2020 × 25 mm
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland
ARTIST ROOMS Acquired jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008


CRUSADE is a set of sixteen hand-coloured, individually framed photographs arranged in a four by four grid to form a single image. The composition is split vertically into three colour fields of yellow and red. A grid formed by the thin, black frames additionally divides the artwork. The artists themselves are depicted: George on the left and Gilbert on the right. Both figures are bathed in a bright yellow overlay while an unoccupied chair in the central section is covered in a red overlay. The artists, dressed in their signature business attire, are identically posed: sitting backwards on wooden chairs, they grasp with both hands the central, vertical strut of the chair they rest on. The central chair – scaled up so as to fill twice as much space as each of the artists – is identical to the ones Gilbert & George sit on, and is cropped so that only the back is presented to the viewer, highlighting the cross shape that it forms. The title and date of the work, in addition to the artists’ signatures, are printed in black ink in the lower right panel.

The sixteen prints in CRUSADE were developed using the gelatin silver process, which produces black and white images. The photographs were printed on resin-coated paper and later hand-coloured red and yellow before being dry mounted on thin board and framed in black-painted aluminium frames with Perspex glazing. When exhibited, the framed works are hung on horizontal tracks.

By 1980 the use of bright colour played a pivotal role in Gilbert & George’s work. Art historian Wolf Jahn observes that in CRUSADE the artists use colour as a way to establish a hierarchy in their artworks: ‘Yellow and red serve to emphasize the cross on one hand and the men who are subordinate to it on the other’ (Jahn 1989, p.277). The amount of space occupied by the central cross in comparison to the space occupied by the figures on either side supports this interpretation. While this hierarchy implies reverence for the cross, the use of chairs to create the symbol emphasises its ubiquitous, commonplace existence in Christian culture, as well as more broadly.

Along with the addition of red and yellow to the artists’ palette, around this time the duo began to frame their prints to create grids across the compositions. In CRUSADE the luminescent colours and black outlines of the frames evoke stained glass windows such as are found in churches, imbuing the work with a religious quality. This interpretation is further evidenced by Gilbert & George clutching the chairs’ cross-shaped struts. While the cross is symbolic of Christianity and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the title, CRUSADE, is a reference to the religious expeditions undergone by Christian Europeans in the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries to recover the Holy Land of Jerusalem. Commenting on these religious allusions, art historian Brenda Richardson observes that CRUSADE ‘cast[s] the artists in the role of Christian contemplatives, looking toward both world and afterlife salvation’ (Brenda Richardson, Gilbert & George, exhibition catalogue, Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore 1984, p.43).

CRUSADE was created in the early 1980s with several other works that preceded, and would influence, one of Gilbert & George’s most famous series: Modern Fears 1980–1. At this time Gilbert & George were beginning to incorporate religious themes into works such as Black Jesus 1980 (private collection; reproduced in Ratcliff 1986, p.129). In Modern Fears images of the cross and the use of red and yellow would become more prevalent (see, for instance, Happy 1980, Tate T07156). The result of this colour choice is that this series, when exhibited, creates an environment evocative of a medieval cathedral. Additionally, the triptych composition of works such as CRUSADE is reminiscent of an altarpiece.

Gilbert & George’s attention to Christianity is most likely influenced by their respective upbringings. Gilbert was raised a Catholic and George a Methodist. In the pair’s conversations with art critic François Jonquet in 2000–4, George explained that they first used religious imagery because of the prevalence of Christian symbols in London:

When we became artists we noticed how omnipresent Christianity was. St Martin’s is a Christian name. You come across a church on every street corner. All policemen have a cross on their badge. Police stations, court rooms, school as well… Prayers are said every morning in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. In court, you have to swear on the Bible.
(George in François Jonquet, Gilbert & George: Intimate Conversations with François Jonquet, London 2004, p.148.)

The artists would later depict a greater number of religious symbols in their series New Democratic Pictures 1991, including in works such as Faith Drop 1991 (Tate AR00176).

Further reading
Carter Ratcliff, Gilbert & George: The Complete Pictures, 1971–1985, exhibition catalogue, Musée d’Art Contemporain de Bordeaux, Bordeaux 1986, reproduced p.133.
Wolf Jahn, The Art of Gilbert & George, London 1989, reproduced p.266.
Gilbert & George: The Complete Pictures, 1971–2005, vol. 1, London 2007, reproduced p.442.

Daisy Silver
The University of Edinburgh
January 2016

The University of Edinburgh is a research partner of ARTIST ROOMS.

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Display caption

Around 1974 Gilbert & George began to make ordered rectangular grids of their imagery, a format they have followed and developed to the present day. Crusade also shows an early example of their increasing use of colour. Having trained as sculptors, they were initially uncertain about how to use colour, adding only red at first to their black and white compositions. Here, there is a link between the title, which refers to a military expedition undertaken by Christians in Europe in the middle ages, and the fact that the artists are holding the backs of the chairs as if they were crosses.

Gallery label, February 2010

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

You might like

In the shop