In the 1980s, Gilbert & George’s pictures became bigger, brighter and bolder, using images as a mere starting point for their elaborate compositions. In WINTER FLOWERS, for example, children playing in the snow are given a foreground in which the artists appear like minor deities in a mythological scene, evoking archetypes of transience and death. These pictures are often playful. In YOUTH ATTACK, the world seems to be crowding in aggressively on a group of young men, blocking their aspirations. However, the forces pressing down include some that are decidedly unthreatening – a cat stretching out its paw – while the youths themselves seem, if anything, disdainful and bored by the worst that society can throw at them.
After their initial hesitancy, Gilbert & George were remarkably confident in their use of colour. Bold areas of blue, yellow, red and green transform their black-and-white source images, shifting them from naturalism to an imaginatively charged, heightened reality. ‘Now we use more colours, but in each picture they mean something different… They can be symbolic or they can be atmospheric or emotional… It’s more a part of our own language, really – part of our vocabulary’, they have said.