Gilbert Proesch was born in San Martin de Tor in Italy, his mother tongue being Ladin rather than Italian. He studied art at the Wolkenstein School of Art and Hallein School of Art in Austria and the Akademie der Kunst, Munich, before moving to England. George Passmore was born in Plymouth in the United Kingdom, to a single mother in a poor household. He studied art at the Dartington College of Arts and the Oxford School of Art, then part of the Oxford College of Technology, which eventually became Oxford Brookes University.
The two first met on 25 September 1967 while studying sculpture at St Martins School of Art, now Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, one of six colleges in the University of the Arts, London. The two claim they came together because George was the only person who could understand Gilbert's rather poorly spoken English. In a 2002 interview with Daily Telegraph they said of their meeting: "it was love at first sight". They have claimed that they married in 2008.
For many years, Gilbert & George have been residents of Fournier Street, Spitalfields, East London. Their entire body of work has been created in, and focused on, London's East End, which they see as a microcosm. According to George, "Nothing happens in the world that doesn't happen in the East End."
Whilst still students Gilbert & George made The Singing Sculpture, which was first performed at Nigel Greenwood Gallery in 1970. For this performance they covered their heads and hands in multi-coloured metalised powders, stood on a table, and sang along and moved to a recording of Flanagan and Allen's song "Underneath the Arches", sometimes for a day at a time. The suits they wore for this became a sort of uniform for them. They rarely appear in public without wearing them. It is also unusual for one of the pair to be seen without the other. The pair regard themselves as "living sculptures". They refuse to disassociate their art from their everyday lives, insisting that everything they do is art.