Gilbert and George make bid for establishment status

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The Independent Culture

The Britart duo Gilbert and George have built their reputations on producing some of the most outrageous and shocking artworks featuring nudity, images of sexual acts and using bodily fluids including urine and semen.

But today, they insisted they were not ‘anti-establishment’ as they revealed their latest series of pictures in which they celebrate ‘Britishness’.

The series, which features themselves as well as an image of Jesus Christ, clad in a Union Jack loincloth on the cross, is called ‘Jack Freak Pictures’, and was unveiled at the White Cube gallery in London.

The East End artists, Gilbert Proesch and George Passmore, who are better known just by their first names, denied the series of 153 works - their largest body of works ever - was a critique of nationalism.

“We are celebrating the idea for Britishness. We are proud of the Union Jack. We are not like other anti-establishment artists. We’re simple royalists,” said George.

Some large scale images in the series, entitled Jack Freak Pictures, which are selling at the gallery from between £50,000 to £175,000, feature the artists with distorted faces to capture the ‘freakish’ elements of human nature. Some feature the graffiti of East London as well as street signs and urban detritus.

They began collecting images for the series around five years ago, following their seminal retrospective show at the Tate Gallery in 2007, said George

“After the Tate retrospective we had a trauma. Then we had a burst of energy and inspiration for these pictures,” he added

They collected civic medals, some dating back to 1884, awarded for a host of unexpected achievements including services to pantomime, good behaviour, not drinking and cribbage, to form part of the series.

Michael Bracewell, the writer and art critic, called the images in the show “among the most iconic, philosophically astute and visually violent works that Gilbert and George have ever created”, while he said the use of the Union Jack “spans the cultural spectrum from contemporary fashion to aggressive national pride.

Meanwhile, the duo confirmed they got married at a civil ceremony in Bow, East London, last year. Until then, they had refused to confirm their status or the nature of their partnership.

The artists have lived and worked in the East End of London for over 40 years. Gilbert was born in the Dolomites while George grew up in Devon. The pair met on 25 September 1967 while studying sculpture at St Martins School of Art. They have worked together ever since. They were initially known as living sculptures - while still students they made The Singing Sculpture in 1969 for which they covered their heads and hands in multi-coloured metalised powders, stood on a table, and sang along to a recording of ‘Underneath the Arches’

They are well known for large scale paintings featuring bright, almost psychedelic colours, often featuring in their own work, with echoes of Christian symbolism. They have stirred controversy with shocking images that seemingly glamorised the 'rough types' of the East End including skinheads, while a picture of an Asian man bore the title “Paki”.

The show opens to the public tomorrow, and closes on 22 August.

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