Gerald Laing Overlooked British Pop Artist Dies Aged 75

The Pop Artist Gerald Laing whose most recent exhibition included paintings featuring the late singer Amy Winehouse has died age 75. Laing was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and had been living on the Black Isle, near Inverness for many years. He was a close friend of the New York artists Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Indiana, who employed Laing as his studio assistant.

He remained in the States for much of the 1960’s exhibiting in London and internationally. Laing’s well known works included images of actresses and popular figures such as, Brigitte Bardot, Anna Karina and most recently the tragic English singer Amy Winehouse. In October, he showed a series of paintings and drawings of the late Diva in London. Laing was also a highly regarded sculptor who created the statue of Sherlock Holmes  in Edinburgh and also the Exiles, a work at Helmsdale.

Born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1936 as a child of the War and more particularly that economically and culturally depressed, leaden and paranoid post-war period in Britain, the 1950’s he drew upon his experiences as inspiration for the Pop genre images in his paintings. In 1957, while serving in the army in Belfast, he saw Look Back in Anger. The play had a crucial effect on him. For the first time he realised that he was not alone in thinking as he did. It fed his desire to sweep away all the old fears and inhibitions with which society was riddled, and he begin to build a personal world of more credible values. Increasing numbers of people were then beginning to subscribe to this ambition, which eventually was to drive the iconoclasm of the 1960’s, demanding new solutions to everything. This hubris had some dire consequences later, but nevertheless it was essential that radical changes should occur. At this crossroads Laing quit the army and studied at St Martin’s School of Art in London.

As one of the original wave of Pop artists Gerald Laing produced some of the most significant works of the British Pop movement. In London during the early 60s he pioneered the painting of enormous canvases based on newspaper photographs of models, astronauts and film stars. His 1962 portrait of Brigitte Bardot is an iconic work of the period and regularly features in major Pop retrospectives alongside Lincoln Convertible from 1964, a commemoration of the assassination of JFK.

After a period living and working in New York he returned to the Highlands of Scotland in 1969 to concentrate on sculptural work. Initially exploring abstraction and sculpture in the landscape, he moved on to figurative sculpture with the Galina series. High profile public commissions during this period included the Twickenham Stadium figures and the bronze bas-relief twin dragons at the exits of London’s Bank station. His portrait work included heads of Luciano Pavarotti, Paul Getty, Sam Wanamaker (at the Globe Theatre) and Andy Warhol.

Gerald Laing’s last exhibition of paintings and drawings executed in 2008 at Thomas Gibson Fine Art in London’s Mayfair documented the public image of the late singer Amy Winehouse. Drawn to her celebrity by seeing the media depiction of the troubled singer, Laing says: “My work is concerned with the myth, and portrays her as she appeared to us, the public, via the media. Now that the drama has ended, and all is quiet, I hope it will be seen as a tribute from one artist to another.”

His picture of Winehouse kissing then husband Blake Fielder Civil was the first in a series of paintings he produced of the singer. This selection of recent paintings and drawings by Laing, one of Britain’s leading exponents of Pop Art, celebrate and commemorate the icon that was the singer Amy Winehouse (1983-2011). True to Laing’s working process, the carefully selected mass media images which underlie these works are dismantled and then reassembled in oil on canvas, or pencil on paper, their settings transposed and symbolism enriched by the addition of cultural references which run the historical gamut from the Biblical to the contemporary. These pieces deal with Winehouse’s public persona. They magnify the empirical into the proportions of the mythical and open up to scrutiny, through their very apparent composition, the visual mechanisms which underpin the creation of an icon. The Laing family confirmed his death yesterday. It is understood that he was suffering from cancer.

Top Photo: Gerald Laing  Detail Brigitte Bardot, c.1963 Courtesy Fine Arts Society

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