“A Door of Hell”: thresholds, crisis, and morality in the art of Gilbert and George in the 1970s

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This essay considers the art of Gilbert and George in the 1970s in relation to the concept of the threshold. The threshold is used as a means of addressing the shifting, and potentially disintegrating, boundaries of space, politics, morality, and society that are represented, with reckless ambiguity, in Gilbert and George’s pictures. The Human Bondage series is read in the context of the artists’ adoption of right-wing imagery and rhetoric in their works and interviews, alongside the emerging and overlapping categories of skinheads, gay culture, and punk. The Dirty Words series is read in terms of its ambiguous spatial, racial, and political connotations. This analysis places Gilbert and George’s 1970s work more firmly in the context of a pervading sense of crisis in 1970s Britain. More broadly, it argues for reading artworks that embrace right-wing imagery with an attention to their workings, and a watchful sense of how they move between positions, spaces, and ideologies before our eyes. These pictures speak – urgently, perhaps, to us in 2018 – of fascism’s return, the banal slippage into its imagery and rhetoric, marking its presence at the heart of British history.


Original languageEnglish
Article numbergsalter
JournalBritish Art Studies
VolumeAugust 2018
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 7 Aug 2018