Pierre et Gilles

Galerie Samia Saouma

Pierre is a photographer. Gilles is a painter. Ever since their meeting in 1977, when they decided to work collaboratively, they have been using both disciplines to create images in which their two universes mingle lovingly. To the desperate and provocative punk images that were dominant at the time, Pierre et Gilles opposed tender and saccharin representations, largely influenced by Indian and Egyptian cinema, popular imagery, and fairy tales. They proposed a kind of gaiety and sweet abandon in a world preoccupied with crises and enclosed in skepticism.

In 1981, they completed the “Paradises” series, in which their taste for idealized portraits and mise-en-scènes shone through clearly. In “Les Enfants des Iles” (Island children, 1982) and “Les Garçons de Paris” (The boys of Paris, 1983), the most outrageous exoticism exists with the most pronounced sentimentality. Pierre et Gilles are not afraid either of the false or the artificial. They are not inhibited by the moral and esthetic principles of artistic puritanism, and that is precisely where their achievement lies.

After the Naufrages (Shipwrecks) and Pleureuses (Weepers), both 1986, and Les Princes et les Princesses, 1987–88, it comes as no surprise that these artists would now choose saints as their subject. Saints, it is widely known , are not as pure and immaculate as religious history would like to have us believe, yet they are the effect and product of the popular imagination. They belong thus to the common reserve of images and not to one religion or ideology. Here again, one mustn’t see in these representations of Saint Theresa, Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Sebastian, Saint Joan of Arc, Saint Lazarus, and others any particular irony, or even distance. Pierre et Gilles are trying to locate themselves at the center of the popular tradition of religious iconography. The saint is by definition a living thing, not an inaccessible model—a being of flesh and blood, usually represented by a temporary figure. How many Renaissance madonnas have taken on the mask of beautiful Italian women, how many saints and Medieval Christs resemble, to the point of being mistaken for, robust Catalan mountaineers?

Pierre et Gilles don’t do otherwise. Their saints resemble all those represented in religious books and in the Roman Catholic Church. But they also resemble friends, known and unknown, who surround the artists. Pierre et Gilles are not second-hand artists. What they love, they love without hypocrisy or discrimination. It is precisely because their images, idealized as they are, bear the mark of intense emotion that they touch us. They awaken in us feelings and tendencies which we might want to keep hidden; they betray our complicity with an imagination that, despite seeming antiquated and even obsolete, is nearly universal.

Bernard Marcadé

Translated from the French by Hanna Hannah.