A striking example from Gilbert & George's politically charged Red Morning series, Red Morning (Hate) is a monumental work that presents Gilbert & George's provoking and powerful blend of political imagery and self-portraiture. The pair has been challenging the sensibility of the art world with their distinctive blend of performance and pictures for over four decades, reaching a peak during the late 1970s when they produced some of their most challenging and politically charged works.
The Red Morning series are the only works which feature Gilbert & George in their shirtsleeves without their emblematic tweed jackets. This less-formal attire portrays a sense of vulnerability in the artists, they have shed a layer of protective clothing. In Red Morning (Hate) the artists are depicted in red-stained photographs that veil their portraits, obscuring them in a cloud of aggressive pigment. In them, neither Gilbert or George presents their face to the viewer, instead offering their profile and lending an aura of obscurity and obfuscation to the work. The artists' arms are predominantly crossed in front of them at the wrists or elbows, creating another barrier with the viewer. The red-washed portraits of the artists create a border that frames four central black and white images of a bleak 1950s building. The sharp vertical lines in the windows and the horizontal lines in the bricks of the building mimic the grid-like composition of the work. The close up, cropped view of the building alters the images so the building is abstracted and recalls early photographers such as Paul Strand who pioneered this photographic technique of exploring abstraction through a photographic lens. The powerful use of color and intricate imagery create an arresting composition that seizes the viewer.
Presented over sixteen panels, this monumental and striking work presents an aggressive yet powerful discourse on the zeitgeist of a particular moment. Created in 1977, a year rife with political and social unrest in England, Red Morning (Hate) refers to the underlying political and social tensions that coursed through many aspects of English culture of that year, from the police and firefighter strikes to the anti-establishment punk rock movement, which reached an apex during that year. The Red Morning series was made in response to the socialist movement growing in Britain in 1976 and 1977. The series, which contains other works with titles such as Trouble, Killing, Scandal and Violence, conveys a sense of deep social anxiety. There was also a political dimension to their choice of color in both the formal composition and in the title of the series. In choosing red to be the prevalent color in the work, Red Morning (Hate) not only denotes aggression and anger but is the symbolic color of communism, the political enemy during the 1970s Cold War. "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" (G. Passmore quoted in C. Ratcliff, 'Gilbert & George: The Fabric of Their World', Gilbert & George: The Complete Pictures 1971-1985, Bordeaux, 1986, p. XXIII).
Gilbert & George began their artistic partnership in 1967 after meeting at St. Martin's School of Art, where they both studied sculpture. The two men bonded over their rejection of the prevalent Minimalist and Pop movements of the 1960s. In 1969 they presented their first variation of their now iconic The Singing Sculpture, a performance in which they acted out the lyrics to the Hardy and Hudson version of Flanagan and Allan's 1920s song, Underneath the Arches. In the work, the artists play the song on a recorder and use a walking stick and gloves as props. By the time they completed their first photowork, Magazine Sculpture, later that year, they had established their trademark uniform, formal suits in the 1950s style. With their matching suits, similar hairstyles and artistic commitment to one another, Gilbert & George became a cohesive unit, stating, "We don't think we're two artists. We think we are an artist" (G. Prousch, quoted in Gilbert & George: The Rudimentary Pictures, exh. cat., Milton Keynes Gallery, 1999, p. 5).
After their Magazine and Singing sculptures Gilbert & George began creating their now iconic photoworks. The early photoworks presented wall mounted photograph installations, which were arranged in geometric patterns with space between the photographs. The Red Morning series is the first group of works to present the photographs in abutting frames, which has since become their signature style. These large, mural-sized grid-like photoworks present deeply engaging and topical scenes that not only reflect portraits of the artists, but delve deeply into the social, governmental and political themes of their era.
In terms of its scale and vibrancy, Red Morning (Hate) provides one of the most iconic examples of the artists' work in the late 1970s. Upon this foundation they built a body of work that charted a course between some sort of Victorian melodrama and an insightful discourse on contemporary life. As such, Gilbert & George assert their determination to consider art not as an object for entertainment but as a vital part of their mission of reaching and elevating the lives of the public. By inserting themselves firmly into the composition, they embody the idea that an artist's personal investment is a necessary condition of art, "We want our works to be real, life-like, true to life. We are interested in the truth... We are of life, part of it. So our images must have that reality. They are real things" (C. Ratcliff, op. cit., p. XXXIII). The result in Red Morning (Hate) is a powerful and breathtaking work, which instills in the viewer a sense of awe and power.