In pictures blazing with anger, they chronicled a changing Britain. Should they really be seen as national treasures? As two shows celebrate their often shocking work, the duo talk skinheads, gentrification – and settle some old scores
Half an hour into my interview with Gilbert and George, something unexpected happens: they disagree. Gilbert Prousch is talking about their urge to provoke and outrage. “We see all the other artists as somehow meaningless,” says the 74-year-old, his Italian accent still strong. Gilbert grew up in a tiny village in the Dolomites and attended art colleges all over Europe, before meeting George in London during the autumn of 1967, when they were both studying advanced sculpture at St Martin's.
“They're not asking any questions,” continues Gilbert. “We are quite disillusioned with that kind of art ourselves. We want an art that is in your face: aggressive. We are confrontational. Freedom of speech, we call it. To say what we want.”