Thursday, February 15, 2007

"Pay Up and Fuck Off!"

Well i'm back now after titting around on myspace for six weeks... having discovered it about three years after everyone else.

I've also been 'up to here' *gestures around neck area* with new paintings. Including a large beach in Blackpool circa 1970, with so much period detail that it's taking weeks to finish. Also some portraits of my brother and I, some dreamy psychadelic landscapes of King Arthur's Cornwall (from memory), and some 'nightmare paintings'.

The nightmares are based on recurring dreams I had as a kid. My favourite is one in which I am sinking and struggling in an enormous neverending sea of cannon balls... like a sort of quicksand. There is also the painting about venturing out to the garage to check out a noise only to be snatched away by a burglar, screaming soundlessly while Mum and Dad are glued to Tomorrow's World on TV... Anyone in their 30's might remember the opening credits to late 70's/early 80's Tomorrows World: the camera traveling through valleys of the surface of a human brain with Oxygene bleeping away. To me, this is childhood terror personified. Needless to say, I now get slightly twitchy around Jean Michel Jarre or medical models. I'm also, thankfully, out the other end of a seriously long standing collage phase, which has stood me in good stead, but it's the big colourful painted confessionals that cement my interest and I'm back in the thick of it. Other ways of working feel like happy adjuncts, but probably necessary from time to time. Painting is the thing.

But there's still been time to party, and on Tuesday night we made our merry way to the opening of Gilbert and George's Tate Modern 'Major Exhibition', which seems special enough to warrant blog-space after a gap of several weeks.

I've been a G&G fan for 20-years, and first met them aged 15 and on the run from A.E. Housman's boring old Shropshire. I remember sitting in one of their thrones in their Fournier Street sitting room, nervously chain smoking, in full Throbbing Gristle/Psychic TV industrial camo and an Into a Circle t-shirt (which was fitting as I'd first come across their work through Bee). I was far too young and not the slightest bit streetwise but I had a sort of inner compulsion to meet people who might help me do things, or at least escape my background. We spent that first afternoon having thrilling conversations (for me at least), and I remember large chunks of it even now. They had such an overwhelming effect on me. I was wide eyed and astonished one minute, and in fits of laughter the next. I knew as I left them that my life was fucked and things would never be the same again. I wanted what they were doing, or something like it. Up until that point I thought I might either be an art teacher or design record covers. I don't see them much these days but am always thrilled when I do and am showered with kisses.

Anyway, back to the opening. Well, it was a top-notch do as you might imagine. Lots of wealthy and intense looking collectors, a few well-known artists and an assortment of liggers, dealers, hacks and window dressers. And very much an international crowd. The turbine hall was lit in red and blue, with large shadows and Carsten Holler's slides adding dramatic effect. The vodka cocktails were flowing with no expense spared. We had a mooch about, glugging lethal pink things in martini glasses. It was very much one of those do's where you recognise half the room.

One of my favouite moments was catching sight of Maggi Hambling who almost sent a pedestal table flying, while leaning on it making an important point to a a small group of admirers. She then yelled (with camp gusto) 'WELL that's ONE way to take a table!' sounding like a retired colonel (much to my delight). But having come a cropper in past meetings, I didn't dare approach. I also enjoyed spotting Jason Donovan looking slightly disturbed in the Naked Shit room. Gerald was very pleased with himself for recognising Grayson Perry. There were lots of establishment stalwarts in attendance, Norman Rosenthal and the like, as you can imagine.

On up to the show (the new bomb pictures at the top of the escalator aside) the first few room are drop-dead sensational. The stark black and whites, with acres of blood red, hit home immediately, and I have a strong preference for the Bloody Life / Dead Boards / Mental, and Dirty Words series' of the 70's. There is also a large collection of important G&G ephemera. They made beautiful writings, 'postal sculptures' and all manner of playful material when they were cheeky and on the up and these are almost never shown. The 'Charcoal on Paper Sculptures' are beautiful too. The only thing the early part of the show lacks is one of 'The Paintings' (yes, real G&G oils on canvas) from 1971. Enormous tryptychs of G&G in English countryside, surveying nature, traditionally painted like a Sunday painter's picture blown up to ten feet wide.

As G&G work very much in series more or less each room is devoted to a major run of work, so that you get a very strong sense of their creeping development as you move through the show. My favourite moment is when you turn a corner and are heading towards the mid-80's and mad explosive colour with pictures like 'We' (for years I thought the dicks were fingers... have a look), 'Death Life Hope Fear, 'Coming', 'Shitted' and the completely mad 'Life without End'. I also like the very late 80's, like 'Edge' and 'They' and the 'For AIDs' pictures of 1989, and the early 90's pictures like 'City Fairies'. I warmed more to the Naked Shit pictures this time. All of this work was labouriously hard won, projected onto light sensitive papers and hand coloured. It was a process that took weeks and weeks in semi darkness: an experience G&G once likened to 'shagging in a sack'. The latter part of the show on the other hand is made up of the recent digital work.

I've been amused and interested by the press interest thus far. There has been a tonnage of material written about them in the Sunday supplements over the last few weeks, and quite right too, but almost none of it is new. I've kept them all. The coverage has ranged from the lovely portrait set out by Deborah Ross in the Independent (walking arm in arm with George to the tapas bar in Spitalfields Market; she clearly loves them) to the downright impertinent (Tim Teeman in The Times: 'So, do you actually sleep together?', or questions about George's marriage). Most journalists probably get those in late on rather than risk the shutters coming down early. The best piece was in Time Out (whose art coverage I generally hate but that witch has gone now) - they actually set out several pictures and talked about the pictures rather than (yawn) G&G's daily routine. AT LAST! An article about their work rather then where they have breakfast!!! I can't wait for the show reviews. Most establishment critics are generally quite shocked and/or worried by G&G, they're still far more revered abroad rather than on home ground. I look forward to reading Brian Sewell, who will be crazed and poisonous as always, but I do long to read something NEW about the G&G phenomena.

I must mention the merchandise. There a heavily subsidised 200-page colour catalogue for £12 (who else would chip in as much as they do to make them so cheap for people?) AND a two-volume slab of their entire output over 35 years for just shy of £40. There are also 'Death Life Hope Fear' cufflinks and mugs, 'London E1' courier bags, fridge magnets, t-shirts and a multitude of signed posters. There's also a G&G swear box with 'Pay Up and Fuck Off' emblazoned across it. I love that... I also like the wooden G&G toy. It's a bit like those animals on little plinths you had when you were a kid. You'd press the bottom in and the animal would jig around and sort of dance and collapse. Well, when you press in G&G's plinth the minature G&G's look as though they're furiously sucking each other off. Humour is an essential part of the mad world of G&G.

We went back down for a cleansing beer in the turbine hall afterwards, and I started to feel slightly giddy. We had rushed round it, really. You could easily spend half a day in there, and I probably will at some stage.

I have to say my overriding impression, seeing all (or pretty much all) of their work laid out for the first time is that I think that the work carried out prior to their discovery of computers has more depth. I find the photoshopped smoothness holds less weight. They don't speak to me as much. But I also think that G&G still make the best pictures of modern human experience, and they are the ONLY modern artists prepared to be COMPLETELY open. There's little left once you've shown the world your arsehole or your own shit, blood and spunk, but of their current involvements I remain unsure. But I love and admire them more than I can say, and the world would be poorer without them.