Posh, Kate and Amy get the Pop Art treatment
In the early 1960s, Gerald Laing became famous for his Pop Art pictures of Brigitte Bardot and Anna Karina. Four decades on, he has once again taken celebrity as his subject in a series of paintings of Amy Winehouse, Kate Moss and Victoria Beckham.
As with his early works, Laing's new paintings are based on "perfect" images of the stars from newspapers and magazines. It marks a shift from his recent work in which he used the medium of Pop Art to express horror at the conflict in Iraq and the images of torture from Abu Ghraib prison.
The portrait of Winehouse shows the troubled singer standing on a red carpet kissing her husband, Blake Fielder-Civil. It is entitled The Kiss, because Laing felt the pose resembled that in Auguste Rodin's sculpture of the same name.
While The Kiss is unmistakeably Winehouse, the painting of Kate Moss is far more abstract, showing a woman in a bikini with a flesh coloured sphere as a head, which recalls Laing's image of Bardot, in which a pink circle surrounds her face, as well as Pablo Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon.
The painting of Victoria Beckham is also recognisably the Spice Girl, wearing a short blonde crop, sunglasses and a strappy sun dress.
Laing said: "The first paintings I did were of similar people at a different time in history. This is old territory but new subject matter."
He added: "There's so much about [Winehouse] that's fascinating. She's got massive talent and a very interesting personality. She's got quite a self-destructive streak and I find that interesting. We've all been self destructive at some point in our lives. It's like a kick in the face for mortality. It's a position that many very talented people have taken.
"Then there's her extraordinary body and clothes and her hair. It was something that I really wanted to capture."
With Moss, Laing got into a "visual riff, thinking about what I'd read and heard about her". He added: "It's for me amazingly sensual." The painting of Beckham is more figurative and formal.
The half-tone areas of black dots on a white background in Laing's paintings convey moral, humanistic issues, whereas the areas of flat colour represent more abstract qualities, he said.
He is now working on another painting of Winehouse, taken from a media image of her sitting with acolytes drinking champagne at an awards ceremony, which he is re-imagining as Rembrandt's Belshazzar's Feast.
He is also keen to turn his gaze on to some of the men in contemporary celebrity culture, so a painting of Pete Doherty may not be far off.
"I think an artist should be relevant," said Laing. "It's extraordinary the difference between the art press and real life. I always try to operate in real life."
Olivia Connolly, the director of the Ocontemporary gallery in Brighton which represents Laing, said: "The paintings are getting an absolutely phenomenal response. People are talking about Amy as Gerald's new Bardot. It's such a pop culture image. There are so many people trying to emulate Pop Art, but Gerald still has that lightness of touch. He's just as contemporary as he ever was."
Born in 1936 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Laing served as an officer in the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, before attending St Martin's School of Art. In the 1960s, he lived and worked in New York, but by 1969, disillusioned with America after the assassinations of John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King and the Vietnam War, he returned to the UK, where he settled in Scotland and devoted the next 30 years to sculpture.
In 2003, the "shock and awe" invasion of Iraq inspired Laing to return to Pop Art, using bold colours to create chilling images of the "war on terror".
Early in his career, many of Laing's paintings were quickly sold and disappeared from view he sold the Bardot painting to a fellow art student for 50. Now, he is keen to show his new work as widely as possible. Limited edition prints of each of the celebrity portraits are on sale at around 1,000 each.
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