One of Gilbert and George's very few specific portraits, this is a collage of images culled from their photographs of their friend David Robilliard. Its title, "A.D.", can be taken to mean "Anno Domini" or "After David" or, as the artists suggest, "AIDS David". It is at first an extraordinarily ugly piece, even by Gilbert and George's standards: the uniform flesh tone with pearly globules of moisture (sweat, semen), broken up by the black of shadows, the black bristles of stubble, and the black grid. The image looks like it emerged from one of William S. Burrough's novels, a nightmarish combination of mouth, orifices, bodily cavities.


Their friend's body has become a kaleidoscopic image, opening itself up to unwelcome interpretation. As Gilbert puts it, "It's very haunting. Because you think it's a mouth, with an arsehole in the middle, but in fact it's a bellybutton." Obviously, this misconception happens again and again, and one is left wondering why this should necessarily be the case (though I assumed the same thing). Surely in such an intimate portrait, it makes more sense to have a bellybutton at the centre of a portrait - to center the piece, as Gilbert and George did, on the center of the body, the permanent reminder of connection to another human, the scar that proves we have families. Given Gilbert and George's previous works, and the bodily decay in this piece, one would be forgiven for assuming they centred the portrait on something else.

Their friend's broken body is reconstituted. In Gilbert and George's hands, David is abstracted; his body is rearranged as a still-life (Nature Morte), as emotion (is the open mouth screaming, Munch-like?), as pathology (the night sweats, the pearly drops as perspiration, semen, pus), as phallic and vaginal, and, in the hint of a cross and trinity, as holy.


Exhibited at the Anthony D'Offay Gallery, London,1987. A video webcast of an interview with Gilbert and George as well as a screening of The World of Gilbert and George is available at the Tate Modern website:

Primary Source

Gilbert & George: The Complete Pictures, 1971--2005 (Hardcover) by Gilbert & George (Author), Rudi Fuchs (Contributor) March 2007 (London: Tate Publishing)