Marking a pivotal and transformative moment in the career of Gilbert and George, Bugger is a monumental work from the artists’ definitive Dirty Words Pictures. Each meticulously apportioned in the artists’ signature manner into sleek minimalist grids, the Dirty Words Pictures are a tour de force of Gilbert and George’s praxis; indeed, many works from the series are held in prestigious museum collections such Cunt Scum in Tate, London; Angry in Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo; Are You Angry Or Are You Boring? in Stedelijk Van Abbesmuseum, Eindhoven; Cunt in Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; Fuck in Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg; Queer in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam; Smash in Arts Council Collection, London; and Suck in San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Remarkable for its intensity of vision, this extraordinary body of work consolidates and advances the compositional grammar wrought by the artists’ preceding piece, Red Morning, to create the cornerstone of their inimitable style – a style that has influenced a whole generation of artists. Emblazoned across the present work’s lintel, scratched into a stone wall, is the word ‘Bugger’ which is split into five consecutive single frames: “by putting the word along the top, then something vertical down both sides, it looked like a door. A door of hell. We found much of the graffiti in doorways... We became interested to know what makes a person do that” (Gilbert and George cited in: Carter Ratcliff, Gilbert and George: The Complete Pictures 1971-1985, London 1986, p. XXVII). The artists’ obscene proclamations assume a twofold role in this series becoming both the source and title of the Dirty Words Pictures.
Executed in 1977, a year of political and social unrest in England, Bugger 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, Bugger 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 cited in: Michael Bracewell, ‘Writing the Modern World’ in: Exh. Cat., London, Serpentine Gallery, Gilbert and George: Dirty Words Pictures, 2002, p. 15). Two columns of photographed newspaper spreads, trampled onto sidewalks, mark the borders of the present work, relaying punchy, political headline-slogans such as ‘Bet on Decent’, ‘Freedom Fighter’ and ‘Strike? Stuffed!’. They are crudely juxtaposed by photographs of Savile Row-esque shop fronts, and two black and white images of a modernist office block. As with other works in this series, these images are derived from the artists’ East London environs. In the centre is a primitive, bright red stick figure, flanked by portraits of Gilbert and George. Having introduced red into their oeuvre for the first time in 1974, the intense and iconic red interventions in the Dirty Words 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 cited in: Carter Ratcliff, op. cit., p. XXIII).
The overwhelming scope and ambition achieved in Bugger, and the Dirty Words Pictures as a wider whole, demonstrates a new level of compositional rigour that is self-consciously transgressive, cementing aesthetic order within 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 takes on a double 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 Bugger is not a real one, but a mental conception of the metropolis 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 cited in: Lisa Corrin, ‘Are you angry or are you boring?’ in: op. cit., 2002, p. 31).
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