Alluring. Provocative. Whimsical. Iconic. There are not enough adjectives in the English language to describe the impression that one gets while viewing the work of Pierre et Gilles. I have been a fan and follower since the day I picked up my camera. When I saw their book in a book store, I could not put it down. I would study each page as if I were taking notes and trying to figure out some magnificent secret. This was long before the day of digital photography and Photoshop. These creations were imaginative and otherworldly to me. I think that I spent two hours in the book store drinking in every page of this compelling book. I have long since been a fan and admirer of the talents these two posses. -Justin
French artists and Romantic partners.
Pierre was born in La Roche-sur-Yon in 1950, Gilles in Le Havre in 1953. At the beginning of the 1970s, Gilles graduated from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Le Havre, while Pierre was studying photography in Geneva. In 1974, Gilles corresponded for a year with Annette Messager. He settled in Paris, did paintings and collages, collected Photomatons and did illustrations for magazines and advertising. After service in the army in 1973, Pierre began working in Paris as a photographer for the magazines Rock & Folk, Dépêche Mode and Interview.
In autumn 1976, Pierre and Gilles met at the opening of the Kenzo boutique in Paris and started living together. Their apartment/studio was in rue des Blancs-Manteaux, Paris. As from 1977, it became clear that they should work in collaboration. Pierre will shoot and Gilles paint, each one working on the other works. Their work for the publication Façade brought them to the attention of the public.
The cosmos of the worldwide renowned French artist duo is a vivid, colorful world poised between baroque sumptuousness and earthly limbo. Pierre et Gilles create unique hand-painted photographic portraits of film icons, sailors and princes, saints and sinners, of mythological figures and unknowns alike. Pierre et Gilles pursue their own, stunningly unique vision of an enchanted world spanning fairytale paradises and abyssal depths, quoting from popular visual languages and history of art. Again and again, they re-envision their personal dream of reality anew in consummate aesthetic perfection.
Pierre et Gilles are among the most influential artists of our time. In their complex, multilayered images, they quote from art history, transgress traditional moral codes, and experiment adeptly with social clichés. Their painterly photographic masterpieces exert an intense visual power that leaves the viewer spellbound.
Over the last thirty years, Pierre et Gilles have created photographic portraits of numerous celebrities including Marc Almond, Mirelle Mathieu, Catherine Deneuve, Serge Gainsbourg, Iggy Pop, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Nina Hagen, Madonna, and Paloma Picasso. They work almost exclusively in an opulently furnished studio, where their subjects are costumed lavishly and placed before three-dimensional backgrounds. Pierre photographs the model, and Gilles retouches and hand-colors the print. The reproducible portrait is rendered unique through painting, which highlights each detail with carefully selected materials and accessories.
The ‘sulphur loveliness’ of fashion photography and advertising is where this art comes from, and where it belongs: amid exclusive shopping, outrageous price tags and very private parties that are the embodiment of social status. Here, perfection is not terrible but beautiful, yearned for and everlasting. Pierre & Gilles are part of a global glitterati who serve up happiness as exquisite corn and battered clich’. The stagnant male studs in Pierre & Gilles’ blended ideals certainly don’t sweat. Even vomit is portrayed as scentless, precious diamonds (L’escale, petit matin, 2003). In an erotic image of 1996, a naked man has his head and torso ‘splattered by the photo stylist’s equivalent of semen’. Gilles explains: ‘Johnny was originally meant to be a beautiful young thug, but he turned into something more vulnerable. It’s fake cum, just something we concocted. I think we used shampoo’.
Why is this schmaltzy kitsch so popular? Pierre Ardenne suggests that the ‘niceness’ of Pierre & Gilles has something to do with it. ‘The definition of the French equivalent, gentillesse… fits the work of Pierre et Gilles like a glove’: that which pleases by the familiar grace of its forms, its appearance, its manners.
Today their portraits have become a camp trademark and are as true to reality as Astro-Turf is to grass. The flagrant oblivion of Pierre & Gilles towards any awkward realities of history and culture does have a Ship-of-Fools quality to it. Also, their oeuvre, redolent with recycled popular icons, cute heroes and fantasized ideals, has a nightmarish undertone. Nevertheless, their portraits are immensely popular and any star worthy of Paris Match wants to be in one. Celebrities need to be talked about, spied on, yearned over. They are locked into the sadistic ratings game of fame. So they flock and befriend Pierre & Gilles