Ever since 1976 (when these two handsome men met at a Kenzo party in Paris) Pierre et Gilles’ have worked, lived, loved and played together. Their photographs are captured Disneyfied moments of macabre beauty – they celebrate quirks, herald the sordid and make beauty out of a dark subject matter. From Greek gods to film stars, tattooed/pierced freaks, rosy-cheeked sailors and French soldiers, their delicately painted highly-sexed boys and girls have pulses racing across the globe. Their first exhibition with Parisian Galerie Daniel Templon is called Heroes and will feature previously unseen portraits of heroes from mythology, superheroes from pop culture and contemporary heroes of today. Visual fantasies don’t get much better than this.
Standing somewhere between sugar-coated pop idol and religious icon for the mantelpiece, Pierre et Gilles’ paintings follow the grand tradition of aristocratic portraiture and glamour photography. Curls are blonded, eyes sparkle and lips are plumped and rouged. “We create images that mix reality, daily life, dreams and fantasies,” Gilles explains. Unfazed by the advent of digital or Photoshop retouching, they like to work by hand – Pierre behind the lens and Gilles with the paint. “An image takes a long time to do,” Pierre points out. “First we reflect on the theme and put an idea in place, then complete a rough sketch, choose the model, choose the scene and build the set.” The artwork is never considered finished until it is put in a specific frame, something they consider an extension of the image.
“At the Fukuoka airport in Japan, we were arrested because they thought we were terrorists! It was only after we showed them a photo of us with Madonna and explained we were here for an exhibition that they released us.”
Inspired by icons on and off the silver screen, Pierre et Gilles have had their brushes with fame – photographing Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Andy Warhol and Jean Paul Gaultier among others. “It was so exciting to meet Kylie and Madonna,” Gilles reveals, “but Andy Warhol was our favourite because we worked with him at the beginning of our relationship. His was one of the first images we created and a very important moment.” Their celeb-friendly work has helped them out of a hole too. “At the Fukuoka airport in Japan, we were arrested because they thought we were terrorists!” laughs Gilles. “It was only after we showed them a photo of us with Madonna and explained we were here for an exhibition that they released us.”
Although they live and work in the Le Pre-Saint-Gervais district in Paris, Pierre et Gilles’ heads have always been far away, dreaming of warmer climes, antique goddesses and exotic cultures. “We have always been attracted to Asian countries,” Pierre clarifies, “where there is no hierarchy of taste and no distinction between good taste and bad. Religious and popular culture, the people, the colours, we can find it all in Asia!” Their favourite memory is a trip to India where they unearthed a coloured sculpture of Saint Sebastian wreathed in flowers. Today, however, they’ve started looking closer to home – the street cleaners in Paris being their latest inspiration. “They look so beautiful in their green uniforms!” the boys enthuse.
For Pierre et Gilles, the best thing about being a couple is not only inspiring each other creatively, but supporting each other personally at the same time. Gilles likes to visit the cinema, play sport or take photographs on his mobile phone, while Pierre likes playing with his dogs and painting pebbles. “When you’re in a couple, you always think about and consider the other person and leave space for them in your life. This protects you from being too egocentric,” they say. Their portraits of idealised gym-toned boys in saturated technicolor may serve as visual fantasies, but Pierre et Gilles’ adulatory love for each other is just as beautiful.
Pierre et Gilles: Heroes runs 10th April - 31st May.
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