Growing up in Newcastle-upon-Tyne during World War II, Gerald Laing (1936–2011) had a fascination with national myths and the heroes of wartime Britain which influenced his earlier work. He later shifted his interest to the heroism of mid-century America, drawing similarities between the idealised bodies of Hollywood starlets and the smooth perfection of cars and planes.
After five years serving in the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, Laing began at Saint Martin’s School of Art in London in 1960. A visit to New York in 1963 connected him with his American counterparts – namely Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and James Rosenquist – and he moved there more permanently the following year at the invitation of the art dealer Richard Feigen. He quickly garnered attention and success, and he even represented the US at the 1967 Bienal de São Paolo. A pivotal moment for Laing was his inclusion in Kynaston McShine’s Primary Structures: Younger American and British Sculptors exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York in 1966, where three of his sculptures were exhibited alongside the Minimalist work of Anthony Caro, Carl Andre, Donald Judd and Dan Flavin. Further success that decade included group exhibitions at the Museum of Modern and at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Though lauded as a pioneer of the British Pop Art movement and as a member of the New York avant-garde, in 1969 Laing traded New York’s art scene for the remote Scottish Highlands and relocated to Kinkell Castle. This move resulted in an unusual artistic shift from the abstract to the figurative. Leaving behind the sterile white cube spaces of New York’s galleries, Laing increased the volume and weight of his sculptures to embrace the vast ruggedness of the local landscape. Inspired by an epiphanic early-morning encounter with Charles Sargeant Jagger’s Royal Artillery Memorial during a visit to London in 1973; Laing, who already felt that he had exhausted the possibility of injecting his pre-existing abstract forms with natural and anthropomorphic elements, turned to working from life and recruited his wife as his model. The Galina series of figurative bronzes, produced during this decade, remain some of Laing’s most iconic sculptures.