Image: Gilbert & George back London Creates venture as Frieze kicks off
The limited edition cover of the Evening Standard created by Gilbert & George.
Featured in the Evening Standard

Gilbert & George back London Creates venture as Frieze kicks off As they create a limited-edition cover for the Standard, Gilbert and George tell Dylan Jones about why London is the greatest city in Europe, and their commitment to art for everyone

11 October 2023


From the very start of their career, back in the Sixties, since their time as students at St Martin’s School of Art, when they described themselves as “baby artists”, Gilbert & George have espoused the notion of Art For All. 

You could say it’s become their catchphrase, a democratic manifesto of sorts, an egalitarian slogan, which is why they have revived and adapted it for their artwork to celebrate the launch of London Creates (which took place at Frieze in Regent’s Park today). A diptych, “Art For All” and “All For Art”, are both reproduced on the front of today’s newspaper, 300,000 collectors’ items, given free to readers from Wembley to Greenwich.

They describe their works as love letters to the viewer, to the public. That’s why they are always in their pictures. They are a public sculpture, walking around almost conjoined, through the streets of London, custodians of transgressive art for all. They immediately become dedicated urban artists, in the greatest city in the world.

“We come from a background where all the students, teachers and professors were thinking in terms of formalism — shape, angle,” says George Passmore (born in Plymouth in 1942). “They never thought about death or life or hope. We felt that wasn’t right, and that we should have content.”

“That’s why we invented Art For All, because everybody should be able to get something out of our art,” says Gilbert Prousch (born in the Dolomites in 1943).

“So many people feel awkward going into a modern gallery, they find the experience too sophisticated or too stuck-up, still,” says George. “Frieze has done wonders for the city. Before that, art fairs were always abroad.”

For more than 50 years the pair have lived in east London, specifically in Fournier Street in Spitalfields, in an 18th-century house which is where they also work, in their huge studio at the back. They work — as one unit, one person, one living artist — almost every day, and rarely leave the area. “We went on holiday once, to Bordeaux, for Christmas, but we didn’t like it, so we came home,” says Gilbert. Says George: “Life is a holiday compared to what is to follow, so enjoy it. And nothing happens in the world that doesn’t happen in the East End, so why travel?”

Earlier this year they opened the Gilbert & George Centre, in Heneage Street, just around the corner, a gallery and shop that is free to the public, and where you can buy prints based on the Art For All motif. A permanent home for an unrivalled artistic legacy, the centre is intended to enrich London’s cultural offering, committed to being accessible to everyone in the community.

“We invented our art in London, and we made the city our home,” says Gilbert. “London is the greatest city in Europe. It’s extraordinary, spreading out like a big lake. At the time art was all about France or America, and we wanted to change that. And we did. St Martin’s was the most famous art school, and it all started there.”

George adds: “It felt like the centre of the universe immediately.”

“The reason we came to the East End was because it was cheap, it was a poor area,” says Gilbert. “It was £12 for any floor of any building for a month. We’d have a curry or go to Blooms for dinner. Every American film star made a pilgrimage to Blooms. They were obliged to visit. The only white people in the area were us and off-duty policemen, coming to get free food. Everyone else was Bangladeshi. Before our legs gave in, we used to walk up to a Turkish restaurant in Stoke Newington. Now we get a minicab.”

George says that when they first moved here, taxi drivers would say, “‘What do you want to go there for, guv?’ That prejudice has gone. Now they can’t believe how expensive everything is.” They understand that it is becoming impossible for younger artists to find places to live and work in London, but then they also say that this happens in every big city from time to time. “They have to move a little outside,” says Gilbert. “You just have to find the cheapest place. There is always a cheapest place.”

Their art remains challenging, but their aims remain the same: “We want our art to bring out the bigot from inside the liberal and conversely bring out the liberal from inside the bigot.”

And their ambitions? How have they changed? “We want to win and be loved,” says George. “The same as everyone.”

Could they operate individually?

“No,” says Gilbert, emphatically. They are, after all, Gilbert & George. “We are two people but one artist,” says George. “They said we wouldn’t last but here we are, in our beloved London.”



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