In their 50-year career, Gilbert & George have gone from art-world outsiders to national treasures, famed and celebrated for their pioneering form of sculpture.
After meeting as students at Saint Martin's School of Art in 1967, they have lived and worked together in London's East End as a single artist ever since. Having been the recipients of numerous honours and awards, including the Turner Prize in 1986, the pair's latest work is showcased in an exhibition at Bermondsey's White Cube.
Spanning all four galleries, The Beard Pictures and their Fuckosophy comprises an exhibition of two halves. Dominating the space, Gilbert & George appear in The Beard Pictures as looming, otherworldly figures masked by surreal and symbolic beards, referencing beards not only as an emblem of millennial youth but also as a mark of religious faith and social status.
"The beard is always religious in some way. To cut or not to cut, it's all religious in some crazy form," Gilbert tells Creative Boom. "The hipsters are moving in and taking it on. All the signs on Brick Lane say 'beard trim £3', 'beard trim £6'. Our Muslim friends living in Brick Lane used to be ashamed of having beards because they were enforced, and now because of the hipsters, they feel more disguised – people can't tell the difference," adds George.
The exhibition features more than 40 beard pictures, including a monumental quadripartite, which comprises 4 x 7m wide images emblazoned with 'Sex', 'Money', 'Race' and 'Religion'.
To coincide, The Fuckosophy is a collection of nearly 4000 pronouncements and mottoes created by Gilbert & George and installed on a large scale in the main corridor and 9x9x9 gallery.
On their inspiration, George says: "We drag the pictures out from inside us, we don't take them from the air or the newspaper. They're all to do with what we can remember, how we were brought up, how we think about the world – they have to be lifted out from us.
Gilbert interjects – "We have always said we'd prefer to be blindfolded. Blindfolded is much better because it's a different way of seeing the world if you close your eyes. It's a different reality.
"Everybody's a different person every year of their life, and that's how our pictures have to be."
With 50 years of work under their belt and a combined age of 149, what will the next 50 years bring? "When we're asked, 'What happens if one of you dies?' We say 'fall under a taxi or a bus, you mean? Fear not, we always cross the road together'."
Gilbert & George, The Beard Pictures, runs until 28 January 2018 at White Cube, Bermondsey. For more details, visit whitecube.com. Thanks to Gilbert & George for taking time out of their busy schedule to speak to Creative Boom.