Bad Thoughts #1 is an arresting, large-scale and early example of Gilbert and George's renowned "photo-sculpture." Representing one of the first series to employ color and a regimented grid in its assembly, Bad Thoughts marks an important evolution in the artists' visual vocabulary. In Bad Thoughts #1, the first in the series, the sanguine red of its composition is powerfully juxtaposed with stark black geometric arrangements of window panes and urban scenery, taken from outside the artists' Fournier Street window in the east end of London. Dominating the center of the work, isolated in opposite panes, stands the solitary black and white monochrome figures of Gilbert and George with whisky tumblers in hand, recalling their earlier Drinking Sculptures. It is a depiction traced with melancholy, articulating the artists' felt imbalance between man and nature and their sense of alienation in the contemporary city. In Bad Thoughts #1 the formal arrangement of the photo-sculpture, with its internal cadences and matrices of architectural forms offers a powerful optical effect, paying tribute to the Minimalism of Carl Andre and Donald Judd so prevalent at the time.
Recalling the empty corners and introverted spaces of Gilbert and George's Dark Shadow series, Bad Thoughts #1 marks a retreat from the city. Instead of the spattered black imagery however, the panes are dominated by stark bloody red, as the artists explained, "we were looking for a more aggressive, more powerful image. Red has more strength than black. Black and white is powerful but red on top of it is even more so. It's louder" (Gilbert and George quoted in "Gilbert and George: The Fabric of their World" in ed. C. Ratcliffe, Gilbert and George: The Complete Pictures 1971-1985, 1986-1987, p.xxiii). This red palette represents an important motif in the highly charged Cherry Blossom and Bloody Life series also underway in 1974-1975, in which the artists confronted the violence of the contemporary urban environment. In Bad Thoughts #1 however, Gilbert and George have displaced this aggression and hostility, evoking a palpable sense of disorientation. While violence brought them out onto the streets of London, their growing sense of estrangement and melancholy drew them back into the security of their home, restricted to the views from their living room window. Each clasping a whisky tumbler, Gilbert and George relive the claustrophobic spaces of their Drinking Sculptures, using liquor to assuage their feelings of estrangement and discontentment.
Gilbert and George have consistently used their own lived experiences as material and inspiration for their art. In 1969, the artists bronzed their hands and faces, wearing their iconic suits and ties to present the first in a line of living sculptures, performed to the English music-hall tune of "Underneath the Arches." This was the beginning of a process that has continued to inform their work. In Bad Thoughts #1, the living sculptures have boldly invited us into the privacy of their domestic environment to document their physical presence, personal possessions and evolving mental states. As the artists have so emphatically said, "our lives are one big sculpture" (Ibid., p.xxiii).