Walking, a work by Gilbert & George

Walking (1984) by Gilbert & GeorgeGuggenheim Bilbao

Since 1967, when Gilbert & George met and began working and living together, they have merged their identities so completely that we never think of one without the other; no individual biographies or separate bodies of work exist outside their unique twinship.

While their photographic works of the 1970s were for the most part monochromatic, in the early 1980s they began to dye collaged photographs with lurid colors, thereby playfully summoning the tradition of ecclesiastical stained-glass windows.

At that time they also began to employ a cast of young men, many of them from London's East End, where Gilbert & George live. Treating their models as well as themselves as malleable material, the artists produced increasingly large-scale, graphically bold, and provocative compositions.

Their works from this period draw upon the particulars of East End society and the British urban homosexual experience, but do so in order to engage the full gambit of human existence.

In the monumental Waking, from the same year, the artists occupy the center of a characteristically symmetrical and intensely colored multifigure image.

Around them the assembled cast or audience watches while the artists...

...their faces transformed into masks by overlaid color, mime the horror of some kind of inner awakening.

Perhaps they represent the passage from boyhood to maturity, which the repetition of the artists' figures at three different scales seems to suggest.

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