Gilbert & George, ‘Day’, 1978, Phillips

Each panel 19 3/4 x 15 7/8 in. (50.3 x 40.4 cm)
Overall 79 5/8 x 63 3/4 in. (202.3 x 162 cm)
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From the Catalogue:
“Trust yourself when you look at Gilbert & George’s pictures. Don’t listen to what others have to say. Put aside your prejudices. Bypass an intellectual response, if need be by force of will. Succumb to your gut reaction, even if it awakens unsavory thoughts…Give in to this parallel world unreservedly, if only in the spirit of experiment, and see what you will also learn in the process about yourself, stripped of pretense, in all the complicated, contradictory truth of what it is that makes you the person you are….By refusing to insist on its privileged status as art, the work of Gilbert & George frees us all, if we allow it, to take life as it is in all its messy and imperfect glory.”
—Marco Livingstone, writing for Gilbert & George’s 2007 Tate Modern Exhibition

Gilbert & George make an impact. Their famed gridded compositions formed from individually framed prints cannot be denied on the gallery wall—always striking and always monumental. The two men, Gilbert Proesch and George Passmore have produced groundbreaking works of art as a singular entity ever since they both attended the St. Martin’s School of Art in London in the late-1960s. By 1969 they had dropped their last names and became a fully collaborative unit. As George put it: “one person looks like a bloody silly artist. We always said that two persons removed self-doubt. We can never have self-doubt…Self-doubt is vanishing. As long as the other one always says yes—and we always say yes to each other. I think we share an enormous sense of purpose. I think that’s our greatest strength.”

While the trappings of punk took hold of London in the 1970s, Gilbert & George kept modest haircuts and wore tailored suits—a look they’ve maintained for decades. In the streets and in their art, the pair’s conservative dress serves as a sort of provocative gesture in contrast to modern art’s sartorial liberalism and exists in contrast to the sometimes shocking imagery the pair employs. As Gustav Flaubert said, “you should be regular and natural in your lifestyle, like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

Composed of sixteen red, black, and white panels portraying the duo contrasted with an image taken from the streets of their East End apartment, Day, 1978 is an exquisite emblem of Gilbert & George’s highly sought-after work produced in the late-1970s. From their series titled 1978, which is comprised of only twenty-one images, Day is one of the last works produced by Gilbert & George to feature a red, black, and white color scheme before converting to the vibrant hues that characterize their proceeding oeuvre. On the red palate, which they began to employ in 1974, George reflected, "we were looking for a more aggressive, more powerful image. Red has more strength than black...It's louder." Beyond tonality, the 1978 series is also characterized by imagery portraying a gritty, graffiti laden, and economically unbalanced vision of late-1970s London. Resembling a Lewis Wickes Hine or Jacob Riis photograph, the upper, black and white image in Day, 1978, depicts four possibly transient men on the street, their backs to the camera concealing any identifying characteristics. Contrasted with this is the duo’s hallmark enlarged self-portrait below in red, the very opposite of anonymous, their faces and identities irrefutable. Satirists, polemicists and regal bad boys with a dress code, Gilbert & George’s work is rousing, as George has commented; “life is already a little bit different because our pictures exist.”
Courtesy of Phillips

Signature: Signed in ink, printed title and date on the recto; each titled and sequentially numbered '1-16' in an unidentified hand in ink on the reverse of the flush-mount.

Stedelijk Museum, Gilbert & George 1968 to 1980, p. 259
Aperture, Gilbert & George: The Complete Pictures, Volume One, p. 306

Art Agency Co., Ltd., Tokyo
Christie's, New York, Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 14 May 2003, lot 59
Private Collection, Europe

About Gilbert & George

“Art for all” is the credo of Gilbert & George, who met in 1967 while students at St. Martin’s in London. Transcending the modernist tenets of Conceptual, Performance, and Process art, the duo gained critical acclaim for their legendary 1970 performance The Singing Sculpture, in which they established themselves as “living sculptures.” Since, the duo have been known for their cultivated public persona—they appear in public only together, wearing distinctive suits and insisting that their lives and their art are inseparable. Gilbert & George have expanded their practice over the past decades to a variety of media—books, film, painting, postcards, photomontages—their signature style drawing on a Pop sensibility and the appropriation of mass media images. Swinging between the whimsical and the obscene (one series depicted bodily fluids and sexual acts), Gilbert & George have explored a wide breadth of subjects pertaining to race, sexuality, religion, and mortality.

British, 1943 and 1942, San Martin de Tor, Italy and Plymouth, United Kingdom, based in London, United Kingdom