Gilbert & George, ‘England’ 1980
Gilbert & George
England 1980
© Gilbert and George
Gilbert & George, Four Knights 1980

Gilbert & George
Four Knights 1980
Southampton City Art Gallery

Gilbert & George, Hellish 1980

Gilbert & George
Hellish 1980
Baltimore Museum of Art. Nelson and Juanita Greif Gutman Collection, 1980.127

As Gilbert & George’s subject matter expanded to encompass the teeming life of the city around them, their technical proficiency was also developing. Images spread across several panels, or in some cases filled the whole picture. ‘We decided we could do exactly as we please’, they said. The visual and thematic variety of the pictures in this room testify to this sense of freedom.

The Crucifixion is an image to which they repeatedly return. ‘As a figure of pain, it’s extraordinarily powerful’ they have said. But pictures such as MULLAH show that they remained wary of religious fundamentalism. ‘If you cut down a tree and make a table, it will always remain the same, forever. So we made the face of the mullah out of cut wood. It’s hard and fixed, like those Christian and Muslim fundamentalists who would like the Bible to remain as it is forever.’ Nationalism is treated with similar candour. In ENGLAND, for example, the heroic stances of the artists are counterposed with grotesque images of them both as crouching gargoyles.

It would be a mistake, however, to see these pictures solely in terms of their subject: the artists’ visual inventiveness and wit is increasingly displayed. In STREAM, a trail of piss in the street is transformed into gold, creating a hauntingly beautiful image.