Gilbert and George arrived in Aotearoa on Thursday to exhibit a collection of their 21st-century works at the Auckland Art Gallery.
Flying in from East London, the duo told 1News told they were "jet fagged."
Gilbert, now 79 and George, 80, have spent the last 50 years of their artistic lives together, developing a reputation as provocative, not afraid to poke the bear of the status quo.
The couple first met in 1967 while studying art at St Martins in London. In previous interviews, they described their meeting as "love at first sight," and have created artwork together as a single artist ever since.
For a half-century, they have been the subject of their work. Their depictions always appear in some shape or form, but always in suits, which they often don in their everyday lives.
The works always include symbols and notes of the society, culture or world they saw when creating their art. That includes everything from flowers, graffiti and 'piss' to religious propaganda, sexual innuendos and Nazi symbolism.
They don’t shy away from controversy.
"We don't do the pictures for us, we do them for the viewer. every picture in this show is a visual love letter from us to the viewer…It's our vision of the world," George said.
In their 2011 work, The London Pictures, Gilbert and George are in the background with bold black lettering is the top, as each picture highlights a word in red.
They chose the words based on news headlines they were witnessing and then themed each piece around that.
"When we open the newspaper in the morning the whole world is there.. when we open the television the whole world is there."
The words 'gun', 'knives', 'teens', 'terror' bear down on you. Yet when speaking about it, they say these things aren't overly negative, but rather just what they see.
A piece named Shanara shows Gilbert and George in a bus shelter with graffiti reading "crack 4 sex Shanara," which they saw outside their home in East London. Gilbert and George say they never met Shanara but they pondered if she was still alive, but they say either way she’s now immortalised in this piece.
Again, they don’t seem to be condemning Shanara’s actions, but rather in awe of it.
"Extraordinary isn't it?... A girl named Shanara is getting crack by having sex with a stranger."
The exclamation perhaps comes from what seems to be Gilbert and George’s main obsession; freedom of expression and choice. Throughout the interview, they repeatedly state the joys of the free world in western civilisation.
"We're very privileged people.. we can do what we want, say what we want, read what we want, we are spoiled brats."
This appreciation was likely influenced by their experience as gay artists in the 1960s.
“The world is a very different place to when we were baby students, 50 years ago. It is freer, kind, gentle, we are all very privileged people."
That conservative world, they said, is what set them on their artistic path, pushing back against what was expected of them.
"When we left St Martin's school of art.... we were alone in the world.. we had no money, no opportunity, no gallery representative.
"We are war babies, we had to liberate ourselves."
When they left St Martin’s they had begun developing their Living Sculpture work, walking around London painted gold as active sculptures, something shocking at that time.
It was their first performance art that, they said, never left them. They still see themselves as living sculptures with no separation between them and their art.
The Living Sculptures, evolved into the Singing Sculptures, a year later.
"We found a shop with a huge gramophone record called Underneath the Arches, and we knew what that meant."
"The words of the song led us to a new understanding of art, beauty, truth and power….and it goes like…"
Mid-interview, Gilbert and George launched into the song, seamlessly reciting the work they first performed half a century ago in the piece.
Fifty years later they still have a great tone.
Gilbert and George plan to take this collection of 21st-century work around the world. They said the pandemic gave them time to create more pictures that they want to make available to the public.
"Imagine the world without exhibitions, imagine the world without books, imagine the world without cinemas, imagine the world without music, we would be primitive backward people, we are moving forward with all of those elements...we are not in the caves anymore," Gilbert passionately exclaimed.
Gilbert and George; the Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland Exhibition is on now at the Auckland Art Gallery until Sunday 11th September 2022.