Private Collection, Germany
Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2000
Rudi Fuchs, Gilbert and George: The Complete Pictures 1971-2005, Vol. I, London 2007, p. 271, illustrated in colour
Executed in 1977, a year of political and social unrest in England, Bummed points to the acceleration in social and cultural disaffection that was in part born of the anti-establishment punk rock movement that gained momentum in the same year. Stripping back romantic notions of the city, Bummed is infused with the vital sheen of contemporaneity, a timeless appeal that still thoroughly engages with our own modern day society. Speaking of this moment Gilbert recalls, “England was so run down in 1975, 1976, 1977, it was totally anarchic, with big piles of rubbish lying in Leicester Square, with super-flies and super-rats…” while George added, “Continental people saw England as a big pile of shit with a punk rock waving a swastika on top of it” (Gilbert and George quoted in: Michael Bracewell, ‘Writing the Modern World’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Serpentine Gallery, Gilbert and George: Dirty Words Pictures, 2002, p. 15). The present work is flanked on each side by four black and white images that appear to depict an apocalyptic vision of a city overrun by an army in military dress laden with guns. Unlike most of the other works in this series whose photographs are drawn from the artists’ environs of the East End, these images depict Rhodesian Freedom Fighters who featured on a float at the Notting Hill Carnival protesting against their Prime Minister, Ian Smith.
Operating as a pictorial exclamation mark, six crimson photographs of the two artists punctuate the heart of the picture. Having introduced red into their oeuvre for the first time in 1974, the intense red inventions in the Dirty Word Pictures series come to evocatively accentuate the potency of the surrounding black and white images. As George elaborated, "We were looking for a more aggressive, more powerful image. Red has more strength than black. Black and white is powerful but red on top of it is even more so. It's louder" (George quoted in: Carter Ratcliff, 'Gilbert & George: The Fabric of Their World' in: Carter Ratcliff, op. cit., p. XXIII).
The overwhelming scope and ambition achieved in Bummed, and the Dirty Word Pictures as a wider whole, demonstrates a new level of compositional rigour that is self-consciously transgressive, cementing aesthetic order from the chaos and conflict the artists experienced around them. The regular grid structure, that was introduced in earnest in Cherry Blossom, 1974, has been tightened in the present work by eliminating the gaps between each component of the grid to give a more coherent, vital work that assumes a mural-like quality. The unifying architectonic structure of the grid takes on a dual function and intriguingly also serves to break up the pictorial field, highlighting Gilbert and George’s central preoccupation with the fractured nature of the city. In doing so, the notion of the city that Gilbert and George present in Bummed is not a real one, but a mental understanding of the city as a duality where the crowd is at once an anonymous throng and a mass of highly individualised figures. As the artists themselves have said “to walk the streets of London is to walk the streets of the world” (Gilbert and George quoted in: Lisa Corrin, ‘Are you angry or are you boring?’, in: op. cit., 2003, p. 31).
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