How Alice Tye tackled the daunting task of painting a portrait of Gilbert and George
- Lucy Bourton
- 28 June 2018
Gilbert and George, the matching artist duo who go everywhere and do absolutely everything together, are one of the most recognisable faces in contemporary art today. The past year has been a marathon of winning accolades for the duo as they returned to fill galleries with The Beard Pictures and Their Fuckosophy, picked up their title as royal academicians and celebrated 50 years of creating work together.
While The Beard Pictures and Their Fuckosophy, stopped off at White Cube during Autumn 2017, It’s Nice That spent a morning sitting on gallery benches with the pair, discussing everything about their work and even the meaning of life. When it came to visualising this article in our bi-annual magazine Printed Pages, we turned to a familiar face of It’s Nice That, artist Alice Tye, to paint representations of Gilbert and George, their outfits and everything in between.
As Alice is an illustrator often dipping her toe in the world of art herself, the task of painting a pair of the most talked about artists of the 21st century was understandably intimidating. “It’s definitely more daunting to paint recognisable faces than it is anonymous ones,” she tells us about the job at hand, “tiny details like the curve of an eye or the shadow on a mouth can make a face read as it should, or can make it look unrecognisable!”
Nevertheless, Alice smashed the task as both Gilbert and George can easily be spotted, alongside their tweed suits and perfectly shined shoes. Possibly thankfully, Alice was not a Gilbert and George fanatic before this job: “I have to admit, despite being aware of Gilbert and George, I wasn’t particularly well-versed in their work before starting this projects,” she explains. “But, that’s what I love about illustration! Every new project you get to explore, research and learn about a new subject or person or place!"
When commissioned for a project like this, Alice “always starts by collecting as many photographs of the subject as possible which could be relevant to the brief,” she says. “Then I work from there, gathering lots of references for different elements such as backgrounds, furniture, food, clothing etc." With this varied reference material saved on her desktop, the illustrator started her roughs, a stage for her where she creates “a number of different digital collages from the reference images I collect,” she says. Then, “I play with layout, cropping, colour changes so I can give the client a number of options to choose from. Once the final composition for each illustration is selected, I paint directly from the collage.”
Working with oil paints, Alice’s reference imagery morphs into an image full of layers. In terms of tone for Gilbert and George, the illustrator was asked to “portray them a little more seriously than they often are,” she explains. “Though of course, there had to be an element of playfulness in there too as that’s what their work is all about.”
Alice was interested in the way Gilbert and George are like a work of art themselves, synchronising their outfits each day and wandering around their home in east London. “I was quite focused on their matching outfits," says Alice. "The co-ordinated looks are part of what makes them so distinct.”
Now Printed Pages is out in the world, featuring Alice’s painterly illustrations of Gilbert and George nestled inside, she explains that her favourite piece for readers to look out for “is the image of them dining together,” Alice tells us. “It took the longest of all the illustrations but I love all the elements in it.”
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.