Gilbert & George: ‘What do you think we are, middle class?’ (2023)

Our personal style signifier is [George] shoes, collar and tie.

Gilbert: The responsibility suits ofourart.

George: That’s what wecalled it in 1969. It’s deliberate; we dress like this so as not to alienate any section ofsociety. And you can get a table at any restaurant in the world.

Gilbert: It’s quite extraordinary that we’vemanaged to keep our image the sameall this time; we’ve never had to change. Our suits are always the same.

Gilbert & George: ‘What do you think we are, middle class?’ (1)

George: These ones we’re wearing are Irish – Donegal tweed.

Gilbert: The tailors change because they die.

George: Or they retire. We’re on numberseven.

Gilbert: We started out with our neighbour, Mr Lustig – “Mr Happy” in German. Then we have these ones from ourCypriot tailor, Nicholas. Now we also have a Tibetan one there, Kelsang Tsering, who has done one suit for us.

George: Nobody has a Tibetan tailor. He’s quite good. 276 Goswell Rd, London EC1 (nicholasoflondon.co.uk)

The last thing we bought and loved was [Gilbert] an extraordinary table by George Bullock, an English designer.

George: It’s neo-gothic, or just before, anoccasional table that’s in our living room. And it has a huge, beautiful piece ofmarble from Anglesey as the top. Itlookslike the Houses of Parliament.

Gilbert: But it’s pre-Pugin. We were big collectors of 19th-century furniture – gothic, neo-gothic, and the Arts and Craftsmovement. We probably have theworld’s biggest collection of Arts andCrafts pieces: William Morris, Philip Webb, Christopher Dresser.

George: Mostly things that no one was buying at the time. It was partly our campaign against the enemy – and the enemy was people who would say, “Oh, it’s Victorian, you know” – this superior class of people who think that anything Victorian is rubbish, which is totally untrue.

Gilbert: Now there are maybe only two people in London that sell it: Michael Whiteway [of Haslam & Whiteway] and Martin Levy [H Blairman & Sons]. Haslam and Whiteway, 105 Kensington Church Street, London W8 (020-7229 1145). HBlairman & Sons, 15 Queen Anne’s Gate, London SW1 (blairman.co.uk)

Gilbert & George: ‘What do you think we are, middle class?’ (2)

The place that means a lot to us is[Gilbert] Mangal 1 – the Turkish restaurant in Dalston where we have dinnerevery night.

George: It’s a combination of friendship and, you know, regular, easy dinner. Itmeans we never have to read a menu.

Gilbert: George always has one chop. Sometimes I do too; sometimes I change.

George: It’s very good. We have the Ezmesalad – very finely chopped vegetables – and then some yoghurt, andgrilled aubergines.

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Gilbert: We used to go to Mangal 2 formaybe 10 years, but then they putinasound system and that was itforus.mangal1.com

Our style icon is [Gilbert] Well, therearea lot of queens out there who areverywell dressed.

English breakfast is the second-greatest British invention

George: This morning, we saw two youngmen walking hand in hand, both with bright green hair, going off to workinthe Square Mile. They looked dazzling. Recently, we were very saddened by the death of Taylor Hawkins [from theFoo Fighters]. From what we’ve read, hewas anincredibly kind man. Only 50 years old…One of our friends, Tom Oldham, took photographs of him last year,whichare beautiful.

We don’t give conventional gifts [George] – birthday presents, Christmas presents or things like that. I mean, what do you think we are, middle class or something?

Gilbert: Working boys, we are.

George: We don’t see it as work though.

Gilbert: But every day we give the other George £2.50 and a cup of coffee.

George: The other George is a man from the north of England who was a homeless glue sniffer – and then the government took the vital ingredient for excitement out of glue. So now he just drinks a little cider and has a home in north London, in a converted 19th-century church. But he has come to see us every day for the past 20 years.

The grooming staple I’m never without is [George] perfume, from Penhaligon’s. One for the day – Sartorial; and one for the night called Sohan. Sartorial, £152 for 100ml; Sohan, £210 for 75ml, penhaligons.com

The last music we listened to[Gilbert] No, never.

George: Music is the enemy.

Gilbert & George: ‘What do you think we are, middle class?’ (3)

We have collections of [Gilbert] hundreds of things, from dirty bookstovases…

George: ...fabrics, glass, silver. What don’twe have a collection of?

Gilbert: We have two houses full of it. Well, one is totally full, the other is half full– but with important stuff, like Christopher Dresser vases, maybe morethan 200 of them. William Morris furniture by Philip Webb. Pugin tables. Even a fantastic William Blake book. Collecting is relaxing. We keep everything. We never sell. But we’ve stopped buying things at the moment because we emptied all our money into the foundation we’ve beenbuilding for the past two years.

In our fridge you’llalways find [Gilbert] fruit.

George: Champagne, and fruit for the morning. We go to thesupermarket andbuy three days offruit at a time in some feeble attempt to stay healthy.

Gilbert: Mixed fruit and some mango.

George: And especially pomegranate.

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Gilbert: For breakfast we go to a café–Sizzles – and have one marmaladetoast each.

George: And then we come back andhavethe fruit.

Gilbert: We don’t eat a lot. And wenevercook.

George: We never even boil an egg.

Sizzles, 14 Wentworth Street, London E1

Gilbert & George: ‘What do you think we are, middle class?’ (4)

The thing we couldn’t do without is [Gilbert] Yu Yigang.

George: Our chief assistant.

Gilbert: He’s been here for 23 years, I think. We met him in Shanghai in ’93. He adopted us and took us around the city.It was quite exciting. After six years hemoved to London, then he startedtowork with us.

George: The friendship and the relationship was his invention, not ours.

An object we would never part with is[George] the first Christopher Dresser vasewe ever brought. I had read in a women’s magazine about an antiques shopspecialising in the 19th century, nearthe British Museum, called…

Gilbert: Jeremy Cooper. He was a big dealer in 19th-century furniture. But not any more. Now he writes novels.

George: But we went to his shop and werequite amazed. There was a huge vase, turquoise, like a scarab, and we said we would like to buy it. And he said, “Oh, it’s reserved”, in a very superior way. And we said, “Well, never mind that, we would like to buy it now.” We had a big row. It was reserved for The Metropolitan Museum in New York. So we said, “How dare you send it out of thecountrywhen you’ve got perfectly goodpeople here ready to buy it.” Sowegotit. And that started our ChristopherDresser collection.

Gilbert & George: ‘What do you think we are, middle class?’ (5)

The last items of clothing that we added to our wardrobes were [George] these two Donegal tweed suits.

Gilbert: These are our summer suits byour Cypriot tailor.

George: We were walking in Regent Street, which is something we never, ever do, and there was a roll of cloth in the window of one of these posh shops, probably that only serves Americans. We went in and said we were very interested in the cloth and he was so snooty and didn’t explain anything, but we promised ourselves that we would have a suit like that one day. Rude shopkeepers are appalling, aren’t they?

Gilbert: He thought we were not goodenough.

George: We were the wrong class of customers, I suppose. But we bought the cloth straight from the mill.

An indulgence we would never forgo is [Gilbert] English breakfast, bacon and eggs. I think it’s my favourite food.

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George: Which we don’t have very often.

Gilbert: Not any more.

George: It’s the second-greatest Britishinvention…

Gilbert & George: ‘What do you think we are, middle class?’ (6)

The artists whose work we would collect if we could [Gilbert] we already have. Wemade a collection of workbypeople important to us along time ago, in the ’70s – Patrick Proctor, Duncan Grant, Ger van Elk, Andy Warhol and André Cadere.

George: Our new favourite artist is Oliver Hemsley. He’s a very good, very unknown artist, who used to live in the Boundary Estate near here – a 1900 utopian estate with a beautiful bandstand in the middle, where hewas set upon and stabbed. Whenhe woke up in hospital, they explained that he wouldn’t be able to walkagain. He’s had to adjust his life toliving in a wheelchair.

Gilbert: We’ve bought one or two of his pieces. He does very big paintings. They’re fantastic. We would like a gallery to support him. oliverhemsley.co.uk; the charity Art Against Knives was set up after his attack, artagainstknives.com

Gilbert & George: ‘What do you think we are, middle class?’ (7)

Our favourite room in our house is[Gilbert] probably the television room. It’sthe only room that we use to relax. Wehave two big chairs where we can sit,watch a little television – the news in the evening; and maybe on Saturday or Sunday afilm in the afternoon. That’s aboutit. Wehave the most incredible furniture in there.

George: And it’s all panelled, as these French houses are.

Our grooming gurus [George] are three very good-looking young Turkish men – all brothers – who are the best hairdressers in London. They’re on the Kingsland Road. One has broken away and has opened hisown shop calledApe, and so we alternate between there and the two brothers at Baba. They’re very gentle, softlyspoken; alot of hairdressers traditionally want totalk about football orpolitics or something. Nightmare.

Gilbert: And they do up the nose and in the ears, with flames. And massage you. Wego about once a month.

Gilbert & George: ‘What do you think we are, middle class?’ (8)

In another life, we would have been[Gilbert] artists. I like what we do.Iknew when I was six years old that Iwanted to be an artist. And that’s it. It’swhat we’ve done for 54 years, every single day. It’s magic. [Our new foundation] is massive. It has more than 2,000 works.

George: It’s very simple: it means that anyone who comes to London, from Wolverhampton or from Venezuela, can see some pictures of ours, any time of the year.

Gilbert: Even when we are dead.

George: And we can live forever, which iswhat we all want to do. As a teenager, Iread the first edition of The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh that came out in the ’50s,and I realised one thing: he did it allwrong, but he won. As we speak now, somewhere in the world, someone is looking at one of his canvases and thinkingabout everything you can think about. It’s amazing: the power of culture.

Our favourite building is [Gilbert] the Houses of Parliament. Pugin is our favourite architect.

George: Pugin and Lutyens. We were amazed in Auckland – there is a perfect copy of the Cenotaph.

We don’t listen to podcasts. [Gilbert] Or the radio. We don’t have one.

George: We had a radio for years because we were very excited by the phone-in programmes, and then we realised that it is all one thing, which is people saying, “What gets right up my nose is... What annoys me is... What I hate most is...” Horrific.

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Gilbert: We have a television that we watch a little before dinner. Only BBC One and BBC Three.

The best gift we’ve received recently [George] has been – well, people send us flowers or champagne normally.

Gilbert: At times, but not any more, there’s been a cupboard full of champagne that we cannot drink, because we had too much. And our ties are always presents. We have a lot. There is this company in Zurich called Fabric Frontline, which did silks, and the owner liked our art and he used to send big boxes of these most extraordinary ties.

George: Dozens at a time.

Gilbert: We’ve never had to buy one. fabricfrontline.ch

The best souvenir we’ve brought home is [George] magic material from New Zealand – aniseed stars, buds, things like that.

Gilbert: Maybe we can use it in our work; we will see. We found them on the street in Auckland. They have amazing trees there. Unbelievable. They look so different; the trees are most inspiring. And the grass looks totally different, too. It feels like it’s underwater.

We’ve recently discovered [George] a new friend in Auckland, called Ron Brownson. He’s the senior curator at the Auckland Art Gallery, where we had our show recently, and he made our whole visit fantastic in every single way.

Gilbert: He’s an extraordinarily learned person.

George: And a sweetheart. He’s also, strangely, the most ill-dressed person we’ve ever met. It’s almost endearing.

We never look at websites. [Gilbert] [Our assistant] Yu Yigang does what we need on the internet; not us.

Gilbert & George: ‘What do you think we are, middle class?’ (9)

The best bit of advice we’ve ever received [Gilbert] is our own advice: fuck the teachers.

George: It’s very good. The new book [about us] by Wolf Jahn, which is being published in October ahead of the opening of the foundation, has a whole chapter called “Contemplation on the Three Words”, and the three words are “Fuck the Teachers”. He’s an extraordinary man, Jahn; he knocked on our door when he was just a young unknown person saying, “I’m writing a book about you.”

Gilbert: So he did one, and now he’s done the second one. It’s called The Meaning of the Earth.

George: It’s a great title, isn’t it?

When we need to feel inspired [Gilbert] we open thefront door to our house andthe whole world is outside. Art is a means of expressing ourselves, of being alive.

George: Thinking, hoping, feeling,dreading, wanting…

Gilbert: It’s not a formalistic art;it’s more a human art.

George: It’s an exploration.

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Gilbert: We’ve never had doubts about ourart, not for one second. And they’re allour babies.

The Gilbert & George Centre, 5a Heneage Street, London E1, opens later this year

FAQs

Are Gilbert and George a couple? ›

Nowadays an elderly gay couple in their Seventies, Gilbert & George can often be seen in formal suits strolling around Spitalfields, the area of East London that they have made their home. This is not to say the artist duo has settled down for a quiet life.

Where do Gilbert and George eat? ›

They've eaten at Mangal, a Turkish restaurant in Dalston, every evening for years on end.

Are Gilbert and George still alive? ›

Since 1968, Gilbert & George have been residents of Fournier Street, Spitalfields, East London. They live in an 18th-century house that has been restored to its original decor.

What are Gilbert and George famous for? ›

They are known for their distinctive and highly formal appearance and manner in performance art, and also for their brightly coloured graphic-style photo-based artworks. In 2017, the artists celebrated their 50th anniversary. This biography is from Wikipedia under an Attribution-ShareAlike Creative Commons License.

Who is Gilbert George? ›

Gilbert & George is an artist-duo consisting of Gilbert Proesch and George Passmore, known for their provocative and eccentric 'living sculptures', drawings, photographic montages, and prints.

What was painter Rubens first name? ›

Peter Paul Rubens, (born June 28, 1577, Siegen, Nassau, Westphalia [Germany]—died May 30, 1640, Antwerp, Spanish Netherlands [now in Belgium]), Flemish painter who was the greatest exponent of Baroque painting's dynamism, vitality, and sensuous exuberance.

Which element of art involves showing the highlights and shadows created by a light source? ›

chiaroscuro, (from Italian chiaro, “light,” and scuro, “dark”), technique employed in the visual arts to represent light and shadow as they define three-dimensional objects.

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