Since first meeting at St Martin’s School of Art, London, in 1967, Gilbert & George have dedicated their lives to creating art that communicates their vision of the world in a manner that is direct, immediate, open-handed, mysterious, confrontational, generous, dizzying, ghost-like, intensely realistic, visionary and profoundly moral. With a many layered intensity of thoughts and a radically inventive visual creativity, the art of Gilbert & George has always directly addressed the feelings, prejudices and emotions of each individual viewer.
The twenty-six UTOPIAN PICTURES, exhibited for the first time in the iconic Gillman Barracks, convey the moral vision of Gilbert & George with monolithic and declamatory intensity. These pictures depict a modern world in which authority and the resentment of authority, rules and rebellion, advertising and public information, dogma and warning, boasts and threats co-exist in seemingly endless proclamations: in notices and signs, on the streets and on public transport, in historic royal emblems, stickers, posters and graffiti. Religion, politics, sex, crime and civic order are all represented – the myriad announcements combining to resemble a roaring visual Babel within the public spaces of the contemporary city.
Gilbert & George have always asserted that the modern human condition, in all its aspects, can be found revealed in the streets around their home and studio in East London. The texts and emblems contained in the UTOPIAN PICTURES provide further proof of this claim. Encountered by the artists in their daily walks around their neighbourhood, the many different signs depicted in these pictures – some attempting to exercise social control, others to assert civic disobedience – take their place within the art of Gilbert & George as a pre-existing visual language that is real and alive on the city streets. A highly inventive and original visual vocabulary embellishes the dense webs of personal, moral and ideological tension that these signs and slogans create. Possessing a universality of content, temper and meaning, they describe the social climate of modern urban life.
In seemingly simple, vivid primary colours, the figures of the artists often masked, hooded or obscured, yet always quietly and respectably be-suited, the UTOPIAN PICTURES convey the experience of an accelerated, violent, vertiginous, clamorous, technological, multi-faith and multi-cultural teeming city. It is within this very clamour – this dissonant roar of conflicting intentions and ideals – that we might in fact discern ‘Utopia’: a society describing perfection through its allowance of imperfection and disorder.