The Major Periods

1962 – 1965: Early Pop Paintings

As one of the original wave of Pop artists Gerald Laing produced some of the most significant works of the British Pop movement. His paintings reproduced images of popular heroes such as starlets, film stars, drag racers, astronauts and skydivers. 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.

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1965 – 1970: Utopian Abstract Sculpture

From 1965 Gerald Laing's painting evolved into abstract sculptures using the techniques and materials of car customisation - lacquering, spray-painting and chrome-plating on metal.

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1970 – 1973: Sculpture In The Landscape

A move from New York to the Highlands of Scotland in 1970 saw Gerald Laing's sculpture respond to the beauty, roughness and power of the surrounding landscape.

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1972 – 2010: Public Sculpture

Public sculptures include the the Bank Station Dragons; the Rugby Sculptures at Twickenham Stadium; the Cricketer at Lords; the Highland Clearances Memorial in Helmsdale, Sutherland and Axis Mundi in Edinburgh.

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1973 – 1980: Galina Series

Inspired by the figurative sculpture of the First World War Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner, in 1973 Gerald Laing began to model in clay and cast in bronze. The Galina Series and associated sculptures were his first works from this period.

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1982 – 2007: Portrait Heads

Gerald Laing's portrait work includes heads and reliefs of Luciano Pavarotti, Andy Warhol, Paul Getty and Sam Wanamaker.

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2002 – 2005: War Paintings

The Iraq war and the publication of images of torture at Abu Ghraib prison drew Gerald Laing back to painting for the first time in over three decades. The War Paintings series sees the starlets and all-American heroes of his early paintings take on new, more sinister roles.

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2004 – 2011: New Paintings

Returning to the style and subject matter of his early pop art paintings, Gerald Laing's latest paintings feature media images of contemporary celebrities including Amy Winehouse and Kate Moss.

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Search the Catalogue

Cr008 navypilot 35tr

Navy Pilot

Catalogue No. 11

Artist's CR 008


New York

Oil on canvas

36 x 30 inches / 91 x 76 cm

Collection: Private Collection, UK

  • Private collection, New York
  • Collection of Private Collection, UK

Navy Pilot was an innovation for three reasons:- 1) It was the first move towards the anonymity and formalisation given to the human figure by accoutrements. Although the face is bare, the helmet, gloves and mouthpiece combine to remove organic individualism and substitute an heraldic identity. The possibility was more fully explored in later paintings, but this painting bridges the gap between formalised interpretation of feature and formalised interpretation of accoutrement and display. 2) For the first time I used flat primary colour in contrast to the half-tone dots. I was particularly concerned with the edges between the different areas - they are more complicated than those in later paintings. I (unnecessarily) made a distinction in edge between the light and dark sides of the head, and took care to paint around each dot on the dark side while using clear arcs on the light side. 3) For the first time, being actually in America, I felt justified in painting about a (still garbled and schematised) American dream, which was better realised in the freedom of detachment on my return to England, but which is in the same way represented by the glamour and flash of the Navy Pilot.

'Aspen Notebook', Gerald Laing, unpublished manuscript, 1966

In 1962 JFK famously declared his intention, ‘before this decade ends’, of putting a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth. Behind all this PR intense programmes of experiment and research were being carried out. Carefully selected military pilots were stressed and tested in simulations of what they might experience in space flight and zero gravity. Only the most technically competent and psychologically confident candidates were considered for the task ahead. Navy Pilot is preparing for extreme physical stress and disorientation during which he must consistently demonstrate his ability to continue to carry out his technical work ... the ominous zig-zag at the bottom of the canvas is a graphic metaphor for the monitoring equipment on which depends his acceptance or rejection as an Astronaut.

Space, Speed, Sex: Works from the early 1960s, Gerald Laing, exh. cat., Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert, London, 2006, p.28