Living sculptures and ‘photomontagers’ Gilbert & George have been turning the art world on its head since the sixties with their provocative and thought-provoking works. They talk to Oliver Hall about life’s contradictions, never arguing and ‘extraordinary’ spunk.

At the respective ages of 78 (Gilbert) and 80 (George), the pair travelled to New Zealand for the first time for the opening of Gilbert & George: The Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland Exhibition 2022 which they developed with Auckland Art Gallery.

Clad in their trademark tweed suits for our interviewer, the couple tell me, they are ‘under the weather in a big way,’ unsurprisingly jet-lagged from their massive journey.


The exhibition is their first retrospective that focuses solely on pictures they created in the 21st Century.

“It makes us more directly in touch with the public. People come to the exhibitions, feeling that they’re part of us, living in this modern time,” they tell us.

Prolific to a fault, the two have produced so much work that a full retrospective at London’s Tate Modern in 2007 was the biggest the gallery had ever staged.

Gilbert & George HOMO RIOT HOMO mixed media 2014.

While the 21st Century is often considered a fragmented era of change and tech, Gilbert & George (G&G) say their work, celebrates ‘this marvellous place called the free world.’

“Not every place in the world is free. We’re very privileged. The Great Western success story is to invent safety and freedom. Australasia is safe and free, North America is safe and free, Europe is safe and free. Many other places are not. Art is part of that. Art is part of opening up to different kinds of feelings. Getting away from religion and totalitarianism,” they tell me, in one of many eye-opening, optimistic monologues.

While I agree we have much to be grateful for, the overturning of recent abortion legislation in America makes ‘safe and free’ feels like a questionable conclusion. G&G aren’t looking to debate but do have a solution at the ready. “Ban religion is our motto,” they conclude.

Love At First Sight

G&G met at St. Martin’s School of Art, London in September of 1967. Considered to be one of the world’s best art colleges, they tell us, “we felt we were at the centre of the universe,” describing themselves ‘very privileged, big-headed, spoiled brats,’ yet conclude that their confidence, ‘didn’t hurt us at all!”

Gilbert was originally from Italy and lived in Austria and Germany, before arriving in England. He tells us, he tells us his English wasn’t good, so he relied on British-born George to show him the city ‘in a big way!’ London inspired their art then, just as it still does today.

“We wandered the streets feeling free to experiment exactly with what we wanted to do. Everything is available to us, every bookshop, every nightclub, it’s a great western invention that we’re free.”

Gilbert & George, BAG DAY, 2020.

They describe the pictures on show at Gilbert & George: The Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland Exhibition 2022, as, “visual love letters, from us to the viewer dealing with all of the thoughts, feelings and realities in their lives. We’re dealing with death, life, fear, sex, money, race, religion, city, naked human world, all of these elements that exist in everybody wherever they live in a world.”

They tag-team on most of their answers, finishing each other’s sentences, and even, on occasion, breaking into song. It makes sense when you consider that since leaving St Martin’s they have only produced collaborative works – presenting themselves as one artist.

“We walk the streets together. We take images of the subject that speak to us now. George takes images, I take images, but it has to be a subject that speaks to us. Drunkenness speaks to us. Young people speak to us. Beards speak to us,” Gilbert tells us, explaining their process.

“We take maybe 10,000 images. Divide them up into subjects. And then design a picture with a lot of different layers.”

It sounds like the perfect retirement. But surely, in over six decades of making art together, they can’t agree on everything?

“Great heterosexual question,” Gilbert replies deadpan, adding, “All disagreement is holding back not moving forward… arguing is for nothing.”

Gilbert & George, BEARDWISE, mixed media 2016.


Despite their art being vehemently anti-establishment, G&G have been open about their admiration for Margaret Thatcher, ongoing support for the British Conservative Party and pro-Brexit.

“Most people expect artists to be left-wing and have a beard, pipe and funny clothes. We don’t believe in it,” the tweed-suited gents tell us.

“Part of our art is to try to bring out the liberal from inside the bigot. And the bigot from inside the liberal as they both need to do that… We did a poster of that. Very successful!”

While G&G’s provocative art seems more likely to draw ire from the right, the artists assure us, “we know all about intolerant left!”

In 1977, G&G produced The Dirty Words pictures, and one of those words was ‘queer’.

“All of the gay community were up in arms against us. About a year later, we started to see young people in the clubs with T-shirts saying ‘I’m as queer as fuck’. We removed the stigma from that word, in a way.”

Gilbert & George, KNIFE STRAIGHT, mixed media, 2011.

The two went on to produce exhibitions that raised money for AIDS charities, though never directly addressed the epidemic in their work.

“We never like to deal with what’s happening or reflect life. We try to do art which is making our tomorrow different, not make postcards off today… Culture changes the world!” They tell us.

The world has indeed changed. Tastes have changed and with such a vast back catalogue, I ask if there are any of their works that they no longer care for?

“We love every single picture that we ever did,” they state emphatically.

“For us, our pictures never change. But they change for the general public. In the 1970s every journalist would say why do you have black people in your pictures? Nobody asks that now! Our pictures have been a small part of the changing world.”

As the Gilbert & George: The Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland Exhibition 2022 is purely 21st Century works, the exhibition misses some of the more homo-erotic and indecorous works such as Sperm EatersHard Cocks (1982), Fingered (1991), and Bum Holes (1994).

Gilbert & George, NCP, mixed media, 2013.

In 1996, the pair produced The Fundamental Pictures series that featured both pictures of the artists nude and their bodily fluids and excretions: which they bluntly labelled as piss, shit and spunk on the artwork’s titles.

“We used to see the raindrops on the cars parked outside our house,” they tell us, beginning an unlikely origin story of the works. “We realised you can see all the world and if you look closely, the whole street was reflected in his small little drop of liquid. We thought it was too difficult to take an image like that, so, we bought a microscope.”

After trying drops of water on the slides they tried urine. After forgetting to turn off the microscope when going out to dinner they returned to find, “that drop of piss had turned into an amazing garden – a new world of trees!”

Excrement, blood and sweat followed, but they assure us, “spunk is the most extraordinary one. The most important part of our body of life.”


With George already in his eighties and Gilbert approaching them, I ask if retiring is on the cards when they return to England?

They assure us it is not saying they plan to open The Gilbert & George Centre (a museum dedicated solely to their art) in London within the next couple of months.

“Retiring is a middle-class activity. Artists and musicians never retire.” They assure.

Gilbert & George: The Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland Exhibition 2022 is on now at Auckland Art Gallery and closes on Sunday 11 September. Book now.

Gilbert & George, BRITISHISM, mixed media, 2008.