Gilbert and Georges London, LondonThe decidedly different artists Gilbert and George rarely move outside London, but their London is far from the tourist hotspots of Tower Bridge and Buckingham Palace , The British Museum and Madame Tussauds – although their major exhibition at the Tate Modern on the South Bank for a while moved them back into that landmark limelight.
Gilbert and George met at what used to be St Martin’s School of Art, now Central St Martin’s College of Art and Design, which has buildings all over Holborn and on into Soho and Clerkenwell . The date was September 25 1967. For more than 40 years they have been inseparable, their lives and bodies a living sculpture producing an art-form in addition to the huge poster art which is their other medium.
Their home is in Fournier Street in Spitalfields, as it has been for decades. They moved there for the cheap rent and the easygoing attitude of the landlords. In their time in Spitalfields it has seen wave after wave of immigrant communities, Jewish, Italian, Bangladeshi, Maltese, Somali and Turkish. “We don’t have to go anywhere to be inspired,” Gilbert has said of the district: “It’s a modern landscape for us.”
These days it has become somewhat gentrified, better off Londoners attracted by the elegant Georgian houses. With success Gilbert and George have bought up several of these houses on their street, providing them with adequate workspace as well as a home - though no kitchen.
Fournier Street and its environs comprise the little kingdom where the two exist; though now there are many other artists living nearby who threaten what had been their private creative realm. The Market Cafe where they breakfasted for decades is no more; but Franks at 641 Commercial Road, one of the last local Italian cafes, perhaps like the artist couple a hangover from another era, is the venue for their Sunday breakfast ritual; and now E Pellicci at 332 Bethnal Green Road is their weekday breakfast haunt. Brick Lane too is part of this world: as they never cook its Indian restaurants have been useful over the years: Shalimar at 70 Brick Lane often the source of their lunch; and the Taj Stores the place where they stock up on domestic consumables. Hanbury Street just off Brick Lane is also part of their combined lives: here they dine often at the Meraz Restaurant; here too, just over the road at Gale Furs, they have the trademark collars made for their winter coats. With no shortage of funds these days they can dine too at Les Trois Garçons on Club Row, though they are rumoured to eat most nights – according to legend every night at the same time - at the Mangal II Kurdish restaurant on Stoke Newington Road in Dalston – a long walk there, a bus or cab back.
Further afield in London they have also made their mark: The Serpentine Gallery on Kensington Gardens has championed their work; and they are represented by White Cube, which has galleries on Hoxton Square in N1 and Mason’s Yard SW1.
Gilbert and George are part of London, and London is part of their work, thus of them. They walk their district taking photos for inclusion in their pieces; the graffiti of East London just as much as the faces and architecture inform their pictures. It is a far cry from what most tourists expect to see, but far more real and perhaps more interesting, and like their work more likely to evoke smiles and laughter, and provoke thought too.
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