23 SEPTEMBER 1995, Page 30

LETTERS Civil Waugh

Sir: It puzzles me that Auberon Waugh finds nothing to admire in the work of Gilbert and George (Another voice, 16 September). I often think that their art is exactly like his journalism. Thirty years ago, two art students named Gilbert Poresch and George Passmore invented the artistic persona of Gilbert and George, a British Everyman whose ferocious opinions on pol- itics, foreigners, and modern art are almost identical to those expressed by Waugh in his literary persona. Like Waugh, they have a habit of saying what nobody else dares to say about life in modern Britain. That earns them a huge popular following, at the cost of outraging the intelligentsia on both Left and Right.

But they don't stop there. Just as Waugh will write about virtually anything that happens in his own life, no matter how offensive the details, so too with Gilbert and George. For example, it amazes me that he can be so prissy about their 'Naked Shit' pictures when he recently treated Spectator readers to a graphic description of what emerged from his own bottom after a delicious dinner in a Korean restaurant.

But then Waugh is a good journalist because he doesn't give a hoot about good taste, and he's not afraid of controversy. People leave the room when I boast that he's my brother-in-law, but then they do that when I tell them how much I admire Gilbert and George. I suppose I don't like wishy-washy art any more than I like mealy- mouthed journalism. And the whole secret of the unique kind of art and journalism Gilbert, George and Waugh practise is to know what you can get away with, and then go beyond it.

Which brings me to Auberon Waugh's comments about my review of Gilbert and George's current show. Whether I am right to rate these artists as highly as I do is for the history books to decide. If Waugh doesn't happen to like them, that's fine with me. But when he calls me a fool, he should first be absolutely certain he knows what he's talking about. Remember that his grandfather denounced the poetry of T.S. Eliot, his father paintings of Picasso. Yet somehow — inexplicably — the first contin- ues to be read and the second admired, more than half a century after their sav- agings by the Waughs.

Richard Dorment

10 Clifton Villas, London W9