Gilbert & George
- Gilbert & George
- Bloody Life No. 9
- signed, titled and dated Spring 1975
- four hand-dyed gelatin silver prints
- each: 60.5 by 50.5cm. 23¾ by 20in.
- overall: 124 by 104cm. 48¾ by 41in.
A gift from the above to the present owner
Carter Ratcliff, Gilbert & George: The Complete Pictures 1971-1985, New York 1986, p. 79, illustrated in colour
Robin Dutt, Gilbert & George: Obsessions & Compulsions, London 2004, p. 77, illustrated in colour
Rudi Fuchs, Gilbert & George: The Complete Pictures 1971-2005, London 2007, Vol. I, p. 201, illustrated in colour
"The title Bloody Life posits an awfulness in the simple fact of biological existence, and so provides a motive for art, for endowing life with the quality of sculpture."
Carter Ratcliffe, 'Gilbert and George: The Fabric of their World' in Exhibition Catalogue, Bordeaux, CAPC Musée d'Art Contemporain and travelling, Gilbert & George: The Complete Pictures 1971-1985, 1986-87, p. XXIII
Bloody Life No. 9 is a rare, vintage photo-sculpture from Gilbert & George's defining body of work. Made in 1975, the Bloody Life series reveals the artists making seminal steps in the evolution of their visual vocabulary: one of the first series to employ the regimented grid of individual photographs, Bloody Life is also only the second series to utilise colour, here with such powerful visual effect, as noted by Carter Ratcliff: "the spirit of red dominates Bloody Life" ('Gilbert and George: The Fabric of their World' in Exhibition Catalogue, Bordeaux, CAPC Musée d'Art Contemporain and travelling, Gilbert & George: The Complete Pictures 1971-1985, 1986-87, p. XXIII). Although made over thirty years ago, this series from the mid 1970s possess a resolute modernity which is the hallmark of their groundbreaking creative process, which witnessed the collapse of artist into artwork. Pioneering a new art form, their work ignores the usual divisions between sculpture, painting and photography while also rejecting the modernist habit of seeing a difference between art and life. As the artists say, "Our lives are one big sculpture" (Ibid, p. X).
The artists' first photographic works were in part the documentary residue of their early performance-based art, the Living Sculpture pieces begun in 1969, in one of which the artists, made-up, suited and standing on a pedestal, pantomimed to a tinny recording of the drinking-hall song 'Underneath the Arches'. In the 1970s, with the onset of impermanent performance and process-based art, the need for documentation was keenly felt in artistic circles. However, this impulse for documentation became integral to the communication of Gilbert & George's artistic vision and their 'Art for All' conviction that art must strive towards social betterment.
Unlike the early Drinking Sculpture pieces which depicted a claustrophobic, degenerate vision of the artists' reclusive domestic world surrounded by smashed glasses, overturned bottles and spilled liquor, the Bloody Life series shows them stepping across the threshold into their wider urban habitat. In Bloody Life No. 9, however, instead of witnessing their usual environment around Fournier Street in the East End of London, with its gritty streets and drinking dens, we are confounded by the towering pagoda that rises in the bottom right panel, which lends this work a decisively Oriental theme. Using the colour red for the first time, the artists became acutely aware of its chromatic potency and its associations in Eastern cultures with aggression, violence and the martial arts. "We were looking for a more aggressive, more powerful image. Red has more strength than black. It's louder. [In Bloody Life] the violence of the East, the extreme discipline of martial arts in the Orient fascinated us" (the artists cited in Ibid., p. XXIII). In Bloody Life No. 9, as elsewhere in this series, the two artists pose in pseudo martial art poses, set against reams of paper and incongruously dressed in their tailored suits. In a parallel work, images of the artists are juxtaposed with bamboo. Yet here, any delusion that we might be anywhere other than London is quickly dispelled by the urbane vision of the aeroplane taking off from nearby Heathrow, locating the scene in Kew Gardens in West London. Playing on the dual meaning of the word bloody - on the one hand a quintessentially English colloquialism meaning awful and on the other literally covered in blood - the series title brings us back to gritty realism of the human condition, with Gilbert & George stand-ins for everyman in their pursuit of everyday existence. Red stands as a metaphor for the blood of the title: the biological blood of existence but also the lifeblood of the city.
In the Bloody Life series, the duo reaches a new degree of formal rigour. While the internal organisation of artists' first photo-sculptures tended to be fragmentary, like the Nature Photo-pieces of 1971, or configured into a specific shape, like the two works in the Inca Pisco series, by the Bloody Life series Gilbert & George had arrived at their mature format, configuring individual panels in a grid. Arranging itself symmetrically, Bloody Life No. 9 shows how, on a formal level, the artists intelligently exploit the internal rhythms and cadences achieved through juxtaposition of different images, colours and as always in the early series, the depictions of their similarly dressed selves. Recording the mood, look and feel of the city, in Bloody Life No. 9 the artists, like latter day flaneurs, contrast the inherent conflicts between East and West, past and present in a powerful visual display that echoes the duality of their unique artistic relationship. "As two people, we are light and dark and good and bad". (Gilbert cited in Ibid., p. XXV).