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May 22 2012

Ghostpoet on Henry Moore and Gilbert & George – video

Singer-songwriter Ghostpoet considers his own identity as a man behind a moniker through two works showing that, for artists such as himself, Gilbert & George and Henry Moore, the mask is never allowed to slip

May 01 2012

Gilbert & George: London Pictures. Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York

Gilbert & George: London Pictures is the first gallery exhibition of the British artist duo Gilbert & George in New York since 2004. London Pictures is presented by the galleries Lehmann Maupin and Sonnabend at both Lehmann Maupin locations in Chelsea and Chrystie Street, and at Sonnabend Gallery in Chelsea. The exhibition is on view until June 23, 2012 and presents monumental pictures that take their names from newspaper posters, with titles such as “ARRESTED”, “ATTACKED STRAIGHT”, “BOMB”, “LOVER”, “MISSING”, “SUICIDE”. London has always been a great inspiration for Gilbert & George, and the 292 new London Pictures enable the city to speak for itself, in the language of 3712 newspaper posters.

Gilbert & George: London Pictures. Lehmann Maupin Gallery, 540 West 26th Street, New York City. Opening reception, April 26, 2012. Video by Shimon Azulay.

For an introduction to the work of Gilbert & George see also our two part video covering Gilbert & George’s retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum in 2008. In the two part documentary, Coordinating Curator Judy Kim talks about the concept of the show at the Brooklyn Museum, the works on display, Gilbert & George’s beginnings, the technical aspects of their work, and their influence on a younger generation of artists:

> Right-click (Mac: ctrl-click) this link to download Quicktime video file.
> On YouTube:


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March 08 2012

Read all about it: how Gilbert & George stole the headlines

Urbane artistic pair pilfered 3,712 newspaper bills from outside London shops to create works now on show at White Cube galleries

If you are a London newsagent and have noticed an impeccably dressed but slightly shifty gentleman in his 60s regularly buying chewing gum in recent years, you may have been the victim of a "crime".

He was, in fact, a distraction to prevent you from seeing another impeccably dressed gentleman outside, removing the local newspaper bill from its metal rack.

"We realised we had to steal them," said Gilbert. "We had a drawer full of chewing gum at one stage," said George.

The men responsible for the systematic theft of 3,712 newspaper bills in east and north London are, of course, the artists Gilbert & George – and on Thursday they revealed the results in an exhibition across all three White Cube galleries in London.

The 292 bills that made it into London Pictures form Gilbert & George's largest series of works.

The artists have grouped the bills together by subject – yobs, for example, with LASER YOBS ENDANGERED COPTER PILOT and RABBIT IS SET ALIGHT BY YOBS – and laid them out in groups on a background which features them as ghostly observers.

They assumed that getting the bills would be easy. "We thought it would be very simple, we'd ask the shopkeeper to keep last week's poster," said George.

"But it was: 'What do you want that for guv?'. 'What's your game?' and 'Where are you from anyway?' They were very suspicious and very aggressive – they would never let you have one."

"Not one," interjects Gilbert.

They were caught in the act only once when an "overenthusiastic" policeman came up to George as he was putting a bill in his pocket. He pretended to be a teacher making a display of the posters at his school to try to curb antisocial behaviour and relieve pressure on police. "He replied: 'Oh sir, if only more people were like you.' "

The project has taken up all their time. "We've lived it, we've breathed it, we've sexed it, we've thought it … everything," said George. "More than any other pictures, they went all the way through us."

He said appropriating the bills allowed them to tackle subjects they otherwise may not have tackled: "I wouldn't like to start thinking about how you draw or paint a group of yobs – it would seem very patronising or awkward."

Gilbert & George have been hoarding the bills at their studios in Fournier Street, east London, where they have lived and worked for 40 years. They are something of an institution and there are people who will hang around the street in the hope of spotting the two on their regular walks.

They have won the Turner prize (1986), represented Britain at the Venice Biennale (2005) and had a retrospective at Tate Modern (2007). Throughout, they have never been shy of offending sensibilities: the Naked Shit Pictures from the mid-1990s, for example, which featured the artists naked alongside giant turds.

Four years ago, they entered into a civil partnership which they said was primarily to do with protecting the other's interest if one of them were to die.

Most of the bills in the new show are from Gilbert & George's normal hunting ground around Spitalfields and Liverpool Street, in east London, but some betray a wider journey – N7 GAS TERROR AS COPPER THIEVES STRIKE, for example, which features the postcode for Holloway. "We went to north London for dinner," said George.

The bills are a reflection of a society that we are all complicit in, the artists said.

"It is quite extraordinary that you have this slogan, this poster every single day and everybody just moves on. The next day it's another one. This is life standing still," said Gilbert.

The works are full of "death plunges", "terror" and "murder" but they also have a positive side.

"Yes there's a lot of misery, shame and unhappiness but this is also a celebration in a way because there are many countries where you can't have posters like this. It's a sign of an amazing freedom," said George.

The pictures will be on display at the White Cubes in Bermondsey, Hoxton and Mason's Yard, in central London, until 12 May – it costs nothing to get in and see them, but anything between £50,000 and £250,000 to buy one. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

March 02 2012

Gilbert & George: our lives in art

'People said you can't buy their art because they won't be together very long. Everyone splits up, don't they? But we didn't'

"Man. Woman. Murder." Gilbert begins to intone. "Addict. Strangled. Rape." "Pervert", interjects George, "Suicide. Attack." It's almost comforting to hear Gilbert and George talk about their latest exhibition, London Pictures, which opens at all three of White Cube's London galleries next week as part of a 13 gallery world tour. The show comprises 292 pictures based on the 3712 newspaper sellers' posters they have stolen over the last six years – "we counted them in the end" – grouped together by headline words and arranged in their trademark grid designs. "And when you start to see the words together – School. Mystery. Tube – you start to see the most extraordinary townscape of London. And none of it is invented. These are real people's lives."

Their work has long been attuned to the beauties, the horrors and the mundanities of life around their east London home. The route to the Kurdish restaurant where they habitually eat passes a large block of flats. "Occasionally we see a policeman or woman ringing a door bell. You think 'my God. What has happened?' That could be a nightmare lasting generations. Death. Tragedy. Imprisonment. They say the shame of a family member going to jail can last for three or four generations. What do you tell the school? What do you tell the neighbours? And all that is captured in a word on a newspaper poster that lasts only a day before something else comes along and replaces it."

In a move away from the brightly coloured work they have produced for the last few decades, the London Pictures use just black, white, red and fleshtones. "It came to us with brutal simplicity. The only thing that united all the posters was humanity, and so we added flesh colour." The particular shade of flesh, of course, is essentially the colour of their flesh and images of the two men lurk behind the texts, as they have appeared in much of their work over the last 45 years.

Their distinctive appearance, subject matter and propensity to situate images of themselves in their art has ensured Gilbert & George are among the few artists to enjoy recognition by the general public. When they venture outside their Spitalfields home they are photographed by the art tourists who haunt the newly gentrified area. There is fan graffiti on the walls opposite their front door. "We are very proud of that," says George. "People say hello. Lorry drivers shout at us. One of those enormous trucks delivering steel once stopped and this middle-aged skinhead shouted out the window, 'Oi. My life is a fucking moment, but your art is an eternity'."

The forms and subjects of this eternal art have been many and various over the years since they first met as students at St Martin's School of Art in 1967. They began as "living sculptures", sometimes their faces covered in metallic paint, singing Flanagan and Allen's music hall classic 'Underneath the Arches'. A 1969 piece of "magazine art" called 'George the Cunt and Gilbert the Shit', gave early indication of their ability to shock as well as pre-empting the potential criticism that might be levelled against them. They made large charcoal drawings – which they nevertheless insisted were sculptures – based on photographs of themselves. They further explored taboo language and images as they moved into films and photography proper through which they probed, with increasing graphic clarity, various subjects found near their east end base such as working-class youth, immigration and homelessness, as well as aspects of themselves including microscopic images of their own blood, semen and faeces, often accompanied by images of themselves in their trademark matching suits, or in varying degrees of undress.

"We have two main privileges," says George. "We can bolt the door of the studio and make pictures that say exactly what we want. Then we can take them out into the world and no one can say, not this one or not that one. You can't shout some of these thoughts on the street. You'd be arrested." "But it is all part of the language of human beings," says Gilbert. "People were told that shit was shocking. Shit is not shocking."

Their work has duly provoked more than its share of both real and sometimes manufactured outrage, and their professed Conservative sympathies have been equally frowned on within the art world. But more often than not they have enjoyed commercial and critical success as well as establishment recognition. They won the Turner Prize in 1986 and represented the UK at the 2005 Venice biennale. The Royal Academy once sought legal advice as to whether it could admit two people for one of its limited memberships. "Every two years they telephone to ask whether we would accept membership," explains George. "We say "Ask us. Write us a letter and we will reply". But they say it doesn't work like that. You have to say you will accept and then they will ask you. Not very honest, is it?"

In 2007 they were the subject of a large Tate Modern retrospective. "We felt we deserved it", says Gilbert. "But we wanted it in the right Tate, not the wrong Tate." When the idea was first proposed they were told that Tate Modern had never shown a British modern artist and had no plans to do so. "Then we knew we were on a journey. We had something to beat. And we won through by slow persuasion. We made it difficult for them to say no, because museum directors hate to say no in case they are proved wrong in the future."

They say they don't believe in the "racial division" of the two Tates. "You can't do art by passport," says George. "Gilbert is from Italy, Lucian was from Germany, Francis Bacon was from Ireland. That is what the modern art world is like here. And they have made a decision on those two buildings that will be forever fucked. A disaster. Show, say, a postcard of a Caro sculpture to anybody you meet in the street and they will say that is modern art not British art. So surely it should be in Tate Modern." "Every English artist who has a show in Tate Britain is finished two weeks later," says Gilbert. "It's the kiss of death. If you have Tate Modern, then the other one must be Tate Old-Fashioned. They're trying to say that they don't really believe in British modern art." It is a subject that has long exercised George. "At my first art colleges, art only came from wine growing countries. Teachers never mentioned an artist from the north. Later you couldn't be an artist unless you were from New York. That felt frightful. In that sense, to say you are English and an artist was a new idea."

This reference to his early art life – he only half-jokingly lists his teenage influences as "Jesus, mother, Van Gogh and Terry-Thomas" – remind us that while G&G was born in 1967, there was a time before Gilbert and George. In fact, George Passmore was born in Plymouth in 1942 and was brought up in Totnes in Devon. He had an absentee father, a larger-than-life mother and an elder brother who was converted to evangelical Christianity by Billy Graham and became a vicar. (Some years later his brother "saved" their missing father when he became a Christian.) George left school at 15 to work in a local bookshop, but took art classes in the evenings at the progressive Dartington Hall School where Lucian Freud had been a student before the war. His facility for drawing and painting prompted an invitation to become a full-time student and the plan was for him to move on to the Bath Academy of Art at Corsham where Howard Hodgkin was a tutor. Corsham rejected him and George left for London where he did various jobs – working in Selfridge's, in a music hall bar, and as a childminder – before enrolling at the art school of Oxford technical College en route to arriving at St Martin's in 1965.

Gilbert Proesch was born in a village in the Dolomites of northern Italy in 1943. He was from a family of village shoemakers and his early art revealed itself through traditional Alpine wood carving. He attended the Wolkenstein Art School in the next valley to his home and then, instead of taking the expected route south to Florence or Venice to continue his art education, went north to the art school at the medieval town of Hallein near Salzburg in Austria before moving on to the Munich Academy of Art where he studied for six years.

"So we are very highly trained," says George. "We did seven or eight years of naked ladies," adds Gilbert. But there was little evidence of their traditional background by the time they met at St Martin's on its renowned sculpture course. "St Martin's was very special because, briefly, it was the most famous art school in the world. And that department in particular. There were TV crews from Venezuela. We felt very arrogant about being there. They made us feel very privileged." But Gilbert and George, along with some fellow students such as Richard Long and Barry Flanagan, reacted against the orthodoxy of the time, characterised best perhaps by Anthony Caro's large abstract works, and an early product of their partnership was a jointly staged diploma show on two tables in a Soho cafe: "But we did give them tea and sandwiches when they got there." Later they photographed themselves holding sculptures before realising that they could remove the sculptures to just leave the human beings. "It was our biggest invention. We had made ourselves the artwork."

The opposition to this strategy included St Martin's writing to a potential sponsor advising having nothing to do with them. "And we felt very proud of that," says George. "We knew we were on our own. It was hard but that's why a two is such a common arrangement. It makes you stronger. People said you can't buy their art because they won't be together very long. Everyone splits up, don't they? But we didn't. It was us against the world in that the only galleries exhibiting at the time were minimal. Figurative was not really allowed. Colour was taboo. Emotions were taboo. It all had to be a circle or a square or a line. And be grey or brown or black or white." "And being in the work ourselves was not liked," adds Gilbert. "That's not the case now, everyone is in their work. But then we two were like a fortress. You become somehow untouchable."

The precise nature of their relationship has long been a source of speculation, given additional spice in the 90s when it emerged that George had been married as a young man and had two children. In 2008 Gilbert & George entered into a civil partnership, but they said at the time this was primarily to do with the practical business of protecting the others interests if one of them were to die. Even their friend, and biographer, the late Daniel Farson concluded by saying in his 1999 study of them that "frankly, I have no idea what goes on".

And far from being gay spokesmen they say they are "just the opposite". They object to their work being described as homo-erotic, claiming it is just "erotic". "Sex is just sex. When you ask for a steak in a restaurant you don't ask whether it is a girl or a boy." That said, they did complain when a critic said that at St Martin's they called themselves living sculptures while "anyone with eyes in their head could see that they were actually two fruity gays in suits". "I phoned the editor, not the writer," says George, "and she said it was meant as a compliment. I said 'Madam, you are a liar. Good day.' But I suppose it is another one of our battles in a way. So why not. We deal with everything."

In 1970 they were invited to show some of their charcoal works in Düsseldorf. "The dealer asked the price and, not thinking for one second that anyone would buy it, we said rather big-headedly, '£1000'. The next day he sold it. We were amazed and had enough money to misbehave for a year." Soon after they performed their singing sculpture in Brussels in a borrowed part of a gallery – "it would be called a pop-up space now" – and were invited, on the spot, to open Ileana Sonnabend's new gallery in New York which resulted in the NYPD having to control the crowds in one of the first downtown art events. By this time they were resident in the Fournier Street home that they have occupied ever since. They say when they bought the first house in 1972 they got a free studio at the back, when later they wanted to expand and bought the studio next door they effectively got a free house.

The change in the neighbourhood has been profound in the intervening 40 years – "We know people who live here and who have never been to Oxford Street. It's just some distant and boring place." – and the transformation of the art world has been equally dramatic. "When we were baby artists, you could ask people on the street to name an artist and they would only mention long dead ones; Michelangelo, Leonardo, Van Gogh. If you asked them to name a living murderer, they'd know two or three in prison. But that has all changed."

They are straightforward in their proselytising beliefs for art in general and theirs in particular. At St Martin's they made a looped tape recording simply saying "come to see a new sculpture" and used marshmallows and cigarettes to entice people. 'We did that because I remember Richard Hamilton coming in and speaking to seven people because no one had told the students. We thought how wretched. We never wanted to make that mistake. At least make sure people know about your work. No one has to go to an art show, but we want them to know that it is there if they did want to go. And if you take an exhibition to a city and 20 or 30,000 people see the show, your work stays with them forever. They become a little bit different than if they hadn't gone to the show."

Gilbert and George and their work have travelled all over the world including trips to China and Russia in the early 90s and most places elsewhere since. "We were recently in Gdansk where just the idea of two men being one artist is still something to get over. There may be a sense in London of people saying 'here they go again', but in other places it feels as pioneering as when we began."

Most of their early photographic work was made in the near derelict kitchen at Fournier Street. "It was very primitive", says Gilbert, "but those pieces are now some of the most expensive ones. And we didn't really know how to do it. It was a new type of art to make work out of negatives and photographs. Back then art meant oil paintings, especially for museums. To make this new work into an art form took years."

They say from the beginning they have had an eye on both posterity and the past. "We don't believe modern is it alone. We have to make an art that will survive into the future, and to prepare our pictures for that. And to take account of the past is essential." Not that they have set foot in a national gallery for years. "We know it all," says Gilbert. "But we want to be inspired by life in front of us and not that sort of brain pollution. A lot of artists go to a gallery and see a picture and then make art. We never did that." "If you have a landscape painting in a museum, people glide past it," says George. "But if there was a little policeman on the horizon and a tramp in the foreground masturbating, then it becomes an amazingly interesting picture. We have thoughts and feelings in our pictures, although that does have a price."

Preparing the vast amount of material that became the London Pictures was a physically demanding task, "but sorting through all those 'man dies' 'woman dies' left us sort of crazed," says George. "As we made these pictures we lived through them. You really began to feel it, all this death. But it is very important that we carry on telling the truth as far as we can work it out. We were making pictures then and we are making them now. It's very simple. How we are tomorrow is how our new pictures will be. But it is always a long journey, which can be exhausting and rewarding. But at the end of it, we know there will come a time when we will find ourselves standing in the middle of White Cube, holding a glass of white wine and being  licked all over by teenagers. It's quite a magic moment, and that will be that." © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

July 06 2011

Peter Duggan's Artoons – Gilbert and Georg Baselitz

Cartoonist Peter Duggan turns the art world on its head with his take on how Georg Baselitz, the German artist known for his upside-down paintings, might portray Britain's most famous pair of tweed-wearing artists

March 13 2011

Food tales of the Rich and Famous: Tea with Gilbert and George

A cuppa and a biscuit with art's enfants terribles

While describing the great changes in Spitalfields during the 40 years they've lived there, Gilbert and George recently noted that the Jewish off-licence became a Hindu music centre and the gents lavs an Indian restaurant. Of the latter, George notes: "They said 'It's eat in or takeaway.' I said 'It always was.'"

The first time I visited them – in the 80s, when empty fruit and veg boxes from the market still blew through the area – I was shown their barren, unused kitchen. It had an oven, but its sales tag was still attached. A noise from behind a cabinet caused Gilbert to wince – was it a mouse? – and I was steered from the room. Up in the attic, tea was served by a man in tight little shorts. He was their cleaner, named Staten, which I misheard as Satan. "Our only friend," explained George.

During another lengthy conversation about their modus operandi, they explained that by dining every single day at the very same place, the Market Cafe on Fournier Street, on a diet of stews and pies, they avoided cooking and shopping, which interfered with "feeling the world completely".

We went to their back yard and they prepared and served tea and appeared less austere and poker-faced. Not only were biscuits produced but Gilbert darted upstairs to return with a tape of a radio interview in which Brian Sewell railed against the style and form of sphincters in their pictures.

As it played, Gilbert, like a giggly schoolboy, hid behind his biscuit. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 30 2011

'We didn't want our mothers to be ashamed of us'

The artists have no time for snobbery, especially when they're selling a book of sex ads

The first thing that greets you as you walk into Gilbert and George's East End studio are three huge, blowsy, just-past-their-prime bunches of lilies.

"For the smell," says Gilbert, the shorter, Italian one.

"It's our second favourite smell in the world," says George, the well-spoken English one.

What's your favourite? I ask, and he raises his eyebrows and smiles.

You're being coy, I say – really?

"You can just imagine what you want this way."

Still, it's a better welcome than the last time I went to visit an artist's studio and Jake Chapman physically threatened me and threw me out.

"We'd never do that!" says George. "That's just inexperience. We never wanted to be the kind of artists our mothers would be ashamed of. Although it didn't precisely work out like that."

Gilbert and George actively like engaging with the world. In order to promote their new show, and book, Urethra Postcard Art, they'd been capering about on The One Show the night before, something I say, that a lot of artists would be far too grand to do.

"Oh no," says George. "It's horribly snobbish to be above promoting your show."

They've been collecting the postcards, and flyers, of the sort you find in telephone boxes advertising sexual services, for years, and they've framed 564 of them, all in the same shape, which they say is the symbol of the urethra as used by the Victorian writer Charles Leadbeater.

Are any of the ads still current, I ask?

"Oh yes," says George.

Shall we call one, I say, and tell them they're art?

"Why not?" he says and flicks through the accompanying catalogue, the massive two-volume The Complete Postcard Art of Gilbert & George. "What do you want? Spanking delights? Half boy, half girl? Tie & Tease: Bound to please? Yes, let's try that."

I dial the number and a woman picks up. She sounds oriental and doesn't seem to understand my question. "That'll be her, all right!" says George.

But why the urethra? "We like Charles Leadbeater. He was very into masturbation. A true progressive. It had been forbidden for 300 years. Look at this book." And he plucks an antiquarian book off the shelf, a 1905 edition of Thought Forms by CW Leadbeater and Annie Besant.

"Look. Isn't it wonderful? Look at those pictures – it's like they've been created by a computer. All the modern artists had this book. Now look at this page and pick the first colour you think of. And then the second one." I pick, and then he shows me the legend. "That means your character is… true affection. And anger."

Uh-oh, I say.

"No, it's good. Most journalists are this one… deceit. And we know it's true because they always go, 'Oh no, I didn't really pick that one'. And 90% of the women choose jealousy."

What are you?

"Oh no. You don't think we're going to do silly tricks like that, do you?" © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

John Stezaker

Whitechapel Gallery, London; De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex

Two movie stars in evening dress lean in for the kiss. The air is scented, the music quivers and mounts. But just as their lips are about to meet, the moment is blocked by a quite different view – of a river at the bottom of a deep dark gorge, flowing away towards a distant light.

A sepia postcard has been glued to a 50s film still: romantic landscape, romantic movie. That is the work; the method is simple. But the alignment is so skilful that one is able to hold two (and more) opposing perceptions at once: the lovers about to kiss, evident though their profiles are occluded; the prospect of passion welling up in the darkness; but also the exact opposite: two cliff-faces opposed, blocked, never to meet, with no release. Look into the image and it deepens; look, and you see through it to another side.

Pair IV is a collage by the English artist John Stezaker. Its impact clearly comes in part from a lucky strike, the persuasive coincidence of jaw and cliff, eyebrow and foliage, the light in the room and the light in the landscape. Stezaker has shuffled his numberless pack of images and hit upon a perfect match.

But idea precedes experiment, and for 30 years or more Stezaker has been pondering visual incongruity, inverting, rotating, slicing and splicing pairs of old images to create new works of art. His juxtapositions are anything but seamless – colour/black and white, male/female, portrait/landscape – precisely so that the eye is confronted by obvious disunities that the mind must somehow resolve.

Sometimes the idea is so simple one marvels, above all, at the strange effects. Stezaker removes the top half of a starlet in jodhpurs and her braced legs appear inexplicably monumental. He crops Big Ben so that the clockface is tiny against the glorious frame-filling sunset above, time mocked by mere elements.

He nips and tucks: one film star is blinded by the excision of a narrow strip across the eyes; another becomes bug-eyed by the doubling of this strip, which also gives the collage an optical shudder.

Two 50s children sit uncomprehending before an adult almost entirely obscured by a blank white screen. The scenario appears irresistibly comic, something like the dog in the famous New Yorker cartoon that perceives nothing but gibberish in its owner's speech-bubble, except this humour is tinged with horror. Innocent eyes, the dawn of the television age, the tyrannical adult bearing down like Big Brother: it's all there in the pale glow reflected in their faces.

There is only one (incised) image here, a movie still carefully selected for its well-placed window, true source of that glow. But sometimes the art arrives more serendipitously, as when Stezaker cut a film star out of a fanzine, then discovered that the actress on the back was now trapped in a tense double-act with a black silhouette. Dark Star, he called that series.

But Stezaker mainly works with two found images: postcards masking faces or hovering above them like ideas; silhouettes crammed with fantastical pictures; male-female hermaphrodite faces. These are his weakest works, a dilution of the surrealism to which he often alludes. Freud's photograph hangs above the couch as a postcard train rushes out of the patient's head: Magritte reduced to the absurd.

Stezaker's work has been extensively theorised in terms of popular culture, signs, signifiers, surrealism, early Hollywood and advertising history. Some of his admirers are even obsessed with the one thing he isn't interested in at all, namely the source of his images. But the strength of his best work, it seems to me, comes from something older than the original photographs: a Romantic wildness.

It's the starlet teeming with bat-wheeling visions, the lighthouse in the silhouetted head, the mother at the child's bedside, both obscured by the postcard of a lonely country lane opening up like a new story between them. Enchanting, vertiginous, darkly humorous, disturbing, the effects are masterfully achieved. Nature is matched to man, landscape to portrait with absolute precision. Waterfalls for eyes, pools of thought, the canyons of the mind: Stezaker makes metaphors visible.

An anonymous actor sits blindfold at a desk. Just above him, like an inner vision, hangs a postcard of an old castle shattered by waves and storms. It is Chillon, the prison in Byron's great poem, but it belongs to this Everyman too. Dark, mythic, rising straight out of his sightless head, this fearful image passes straight into your own. Stezaker's collage is a modern Sleep of Reason, the mind haunted by free-floating images.

When Andy Warhol asked 60s stars to pose on film for four minutes, some stood stock still as if for an old-fashioned portrait, while others broke into nervous tics or laughter within seconds. Those who knew the sitters were regularly amazed, though, because their reactions were always so characteristic.

Do moving portraits have unfair advantages? This question is constantly in play at the De La Warr Pavilion's riveting new show. Motion and narrative, the subject shown in time, in the round and in their own words: the genre seems to have a head's start.

Moving Portraits is wonderfully comprehensive. It has many classics, from Warhol's Screen Tests and Gilbert and George's Living Statues to Fiona Tan's exuberant little sons trying hard to stay in frame. Some subjects are famous – Duncan Campbell's Bernadette Devlin, Sam Taylor-Wood's sleeping David Beckham, a split-screen Duncan Goodhew – though most are intimate.

And it is beautifully curated to show an immense variety of approaches, from Julian Opie's digital self-portrait in crisp black outline, a drawing trying to hold as still as a conventional sitter while also breathing and blinking, to Gillian Wearing's 2 into 1, in which family truths are revealed by having the children lipsynch their mother's monologues and vice versa, in a work of horrifying drama.

But isn't this as much a manipulation as any of Sargent's painted socialites? What strikes is how often the same issues matter: setting, pose, expression, clothes; and how much still and unstill portraits have in common.

It is true that Margaret Tait's great 1955 film of her mother dancing through the Orkney heather could hardly give a better sense of the old woman's lightsome spirit and lilting voice, her way of unwrapping a sweet with all 10 delicate fingers. But what emerges here is the real virtue of the film portrait: its power of reciprocity. The responsiveness, the mutual exchange, the relationship recorded over time between those before and those behind the camera – this is the singular gift of making and viewing the moving portrait. We should all be doing it. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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