After a period in the 1980s when, significantly, figures other than the artists began to appear, Gilbert & George once again began to take center stage in their pictures. They continued occasionally to depict other people, but they had clearly shifted away from the large ensemble pictures, which included a cast of young man—living embodiments of potency and strength—that often aroused considerable hostility among critics. This growing focus on themselves may reflect their sense of isolation after the death of so many friends from AIDS. The use of garishly clashing colors in these pictures was deliberately anti-aesthetic, while their depiction of themselves was often gleefully grotesque. In Christs, their bodies form the two arms of the cross while they stick out their tongues.

Gilbert & George had included images of excrement in their art as far back as the 1983 picture Shitted. In the mid-1990s, however, they embarked on The Naked Shit Pictures, in which they appear naked alongside giant turds, combining two taboos that seemed guaranteed to offend viewers. While the confrontational aspect is undeniable, these pictures enabled the artists to question the way society shies away from this most universal of materials. “Fundamentally, there’s something religious about the fact that we’re made of shit,” they have said. “We consist of the stuff. It’s our nourishment, it belongs to us, we’re part of it, and we show this in a positive light.”

Their investigation into the body led Gilbert & George to look in detail at all of its fluids and excretions. They bought a microscope to study samples of piss, and were astonished to discover complex patterns forming and dispersing on the slide. They found they could even pick out recognizable images. “Out of these drops of blood come stained-glass windows from fourteenth-century cathedrals, or Islamic writing,” they explained. “To see daggers and medieval swords in sweat: that’s our aim. In piss you find pistols, flowers, crucifixes. Spunk amazes really does look like a crown of thorns.”



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