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Gerald Laing (1936-2011)
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Gerald Laing (1936-2011)

Beach Wear

Details
Gerald Laing (1936-2011)
Beach Wear
signed, titled, inscribed and dated 'GERALD LAING NYC 1964 "BEACH WEAR"' (on the reverse)
oil and pencil on canvas
96 1/8 x 47 5/8in. (244 x 121.5cm.)
Painted in 1964
Provenance
Richard Feigen Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1964.
Literature
V. Deren Coke, The Painter and the Photograph, Albuquerque 1964, no. 323 (illustrated, p. 140; source image illustrated, p. 142, no. 324).
Exhibited
New York, Richard Feigen Gallery, First Jump Course, 1964.
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Post Lot Text
This work will be included in the upcoming catalogue raisonné to be published by the Estate of Gerald Laing in association with Lund Humphries, 2016

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Cristian Albu
Cristian Albu

Lot Essay

‘… the “heraldry” of leisure and sexuality laps over and invades the bodies of his “beach girls” – those recruits from contemporary surfing mythology and their endless summers – in his bikini paintings and prints. These pin-ups come before us in the guise of modernised vanitas images’
—D. A. MELLOR

‘I began to look for systematic approaches to the task and found them in the new commercial images which were appearing around us in increasing numbers as the economy began to thrive. So strong were these to our eyes, accustomed as they were only to the peeling stucco of wartime neglect, that they seemed to eclipse reality and acquired the pungent authority of the icon. Standing on the tube platform on my way to St. Martin’s in the mornings, I was transfixed by the crude but powerful printing processes used in poster advertisements, and the ambivalence between the whole image which they contained and the means by which it had been created – the dots and lines and cacophony of form and colour visible at a short range, and the reassuring integrity of the image at a distance’
—G. LAING

‘It was a systematic and pseudoscientific method of constructing a human image which disintegrated into its separate dots on close examination, and coagulated to become legible when seen from a distance. There was no accident of brushwork and no illusory atmospheric space. In that particularly it can be seen as a reaction against the vague and speculative content of Abstract Expressionist paintings’
—G. LAING

‘I chose photographs which appealed to me, ones which I wished to make more permanent than the essentially ephemeral nature of the daily press would allow, and which were also absolutely of the moment’
—G. LAING

With its seductive, bikini-clad siren towering over two and a half metres in height, Beach Wear is the largest work within Gerald Laing’s celebrated early series of ‘beach girls’. A monumentally-scaled icon of its time, it captures the heady glamour of the Swinging Sixties, infused with the zeitgeist of sexual liberation, consumer culture and mass-media that spawned the rise of Pop Art. Based on a cover advertisment from the July 1964 edition of the Italian magazine Eva, Laing’s woman emerges from dense, smouldering rows of gradated dots, her swimwear emblazoned with two electrifying neon strips that quiver like holographic illusions. Painstakingly rendered by hand, its original pencil gridlines still visible, the work is a masterclass in precision draughtsmanship. Along with Roy Lichtenstein’s Ben Day dots and Sigmar Polke’s Rasterbilder, Laing’s innovative replication of commercial printing techniques - first developed in 1963 - played an important role in the international development of Pop. Painted in 1964, the year that the artist moved to New York, the work’s elevation of iconoclasm, sex and commerce to the realm of high art parallels the aesthetic trajectories pursued by his transatlantic contemporaries – most notably Andy Warhol. Numbering less than ten paintings created primarily between 1964 and 1965, the ‘beach girls’ followed on from the landmark portrait of Brigitte Bardot that had propelled Laing to public acclaim the previous year. Simultaneously contemporary pin-ups and classical odalisques, they stand in enigmatic, alluring contrast to the pictures of racing drivers that populated much of his early oeuvre. First shown at Richard Feigen Gallery in New York in the year of its creation, the present work has remained unseen by the public for over fifty years.

Laing’s fascination with contemporary iconography was deeply influenced by his studies with Richard Smith at St. Martin’s in the early 1960s. Smith had recently returned from a trip to New York, and was exploring advertising, mass-media imagery and cinema in his ICA lectures and film screenings. ‘I began to look for systematic approaches to the task and found them in the new commercial images which were appearing around us in increasing numbers as the economy began to thrive’, Laing explains. ‘So strong were these to our eyes, accustomed as they were only to the peeling stucco of wartime neglect, that they seemed to eclipse reality and acquired the pungent authority of the icon. Standing on the tube platform on my way to St. Martin’s in the mornings, I was transfixed by the crude but powerful printing processes used in poster advertisements, and the ambivalence between the whole image which they contained and the means by which it had been created – the dots and lines and cacophony of form and colour visible at a short range, and the reassuring integrity of the image at a distance’ (G. Laing, quoted in British Pop, exh. cat., Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao, Bilbao, 2006, p. 435). Following his initial portrayals of actresses and literary characters – Lolita Through the Keyhole, Anna Karina and the Starlets, as well as Bardot – Laing began to mine everyday commercial imagery, exploiting its undercurrents of desire and aspiration. The pantheon of anonymous muses that populated contemporary media would later inspire artists on both sides of the Atlantic: from Polke’s Bikini Frauen and Bunnies, to Richard Prince’s later Cowboys and Nurses. In tandem with Laing’s early work, though unbeknownst to him at the time, Warhol’s portraits of soup cans and Coca-Cola bottles were operating upon the same conceptual principles.

Whilst Polke’s Rasterbilder and Lichtenstein’s Ben Day dots sought to critique the mechanisms of mass media, Laing’s work ultimately celebrated – rather than subverted – the language of Pop culture. ‘I chose photographs which appealed to me,’ he explained, ‘ones which I wished to make more permanent than the essentially ephemeral nature of the daily press would allow, and which were also absolutely of the moment’ (G. Laing, quoted in British Pop, exh. cat., Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao, Bilbao, 2006, p. 435). Mimicking and enlarging the screened dot systems of half-tone photo-press pictures found in newspapers and magazines, Laing dramatically magnified the scale of his disposable source images. Rendered in different sizes in order to capture the contours of his subject, Laing’s black dots operate in quivering counterpoint with the flat painterly surface beneath. Two subtly different shades of white separate the model’s bikini from the surrounding space, whilst clearly-defined segments of grey demarcate her body. Despite its tribute to mechanical reproduction, Beach Wear ultimately asserts the presence of the artist, its ghostly pencil traces betraying its handcrafted nature. ‘It was a systematic and pseudoscientific method of constructing a human image which disintegrated into its separate dots on close examination, and coagulated to become legible when seen from a distance’, the artist has explained. ‘There was no accident of brushwork and no illusory atmospheric space’ (G. Laing, quoted in British Pop, exh. cat., Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao, Bilbao, 2006, p. 435). In Beach Wear, Laing stages a beguiling face-off between image and artifice, deftly probing the boundaries of contemporary image production.

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