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Front cover: Medusa – Pierre et Gilles 1990

Musee Malraux – Le Havre

Pierre et Gilles see this work as their Mona Lisa. The framing, Medusa’s pose and the background all conjure up Leonardo da Vinci’s work. Here the artists show a seductress whose serene expression contrasts with the danger suggested by the snakes on her head. Model Zuleika Ponsen. Painted photograph in the collection of Emmanuelle and Jerome de Noirmont

Pierre Commoy and Gilles Blanchard, also known as Pierre and Gilles, are French artists and romantic partners. They have been producing works together since 1976, creating a world where painting and photography meet. Their art is peopled by their friends and family, anonymous and famous, who appear in sophisticated life-size sets the artists build in their studio. They meticulously apply paint to the photographs once printed on canvas. Accomplished image creators, Pierre and Gilles have built up an extraordinary contemporary iconography on the frontier between art history and popular culture.

Pierre et Gilles have sometimes attracted controversy. For example, in 2012 there was a public outcry in Austria when their work entitled Vive la France was displayed on large street posters to advertise the Nackte Männer (English: Naked Men) exhibition created by Ilse Haider at the Leopold Museum in Vienna. It depicts three naked French footballers with their genitals fully revealed: the first black, the second Arab/Muslim and the third white, to represent the multi-ethnic composition of modern French society. The ensuing controversy led to an act of self-censorship by the artists, who decided that the largest street posters should be changed, and instead use coloured ribbons to hide the players' genitals

Pierre Commoy, the photographer, was born in 1950 in La Roche-sur-Yon. Gilles Blanchard, the painter, was born in 1953 in Le Havre. In the early 1970s, Blanchard took a degree at the École des Beaux-Arts in Le Havre, while Commoy studied photography in Geneva.

In 1974, Blanchard moved to Paris to paint and make illustrations for magazines and advertisements. Commoy started working as a photographer for the magazines Rock & Folk, Dépèche Mode and Interview.