At a time when the boundaries between artistic mediums were becoming increasingly ambiguous and performance art started to occupy a more central position, Gilbert & George pushed the boundaries of their practice to the extremes by adopting not only a new identity for their work, but for their personal lives as a whole. Going through life as living sculptures, characterised by their signature suits and seemingly forever in each other’s company, their actions took on a collective performative or sculptural quality. Indeed, the series of Pictures, of which LEAF is a great example, are as much documents of their lived artistic persona as they are visual and photographic compositions. They simultaneously document the provocative character of the artists, whose subject-matter was often challenging in comparison to the more traditional subjects of the School of London, and constitute a formally interesting body of work that evokes the visual power of religious images whilst also exploring the possibilities of manipulated imagery – years before the availability of digital tools. As Robert Rosenblum remarked: 'The power of these images is the result of the artists’ unbridled and uncensored imagination and of their fiercely simple colours and structures, which echoes through the corridors of religious art' (Robert Rosenblum, Introducing Gilbert & George, London, 2004, p.84).
Executed in 1988, LEAF captures the artists’ signature visual vocabulary of bold colours and visually arresting imagery. The symmetrical composition of the work echoes the duality of Gilbert & George’s artistic persona, which permeates throughout their oeuvre – making the work an excellent example not only of the celebrated series of Pictures, but also standing as a powerful testament to the life and work of one of the most influential artistic duos in British art.
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