NEW YORK.-Mary Ryan Gallery presents a selection of works from the 1960s by British Pop artist Gerald Laing, on view through August 24. Sex and Speed combines a variety of American-influenced images—sky divers, bikini girls, drag racers—which for Laing represented the idealism and excess of the American dream. This exhibition showcases Laing’s acute sense of color and line, his engagement with the popular culture of the 60s, and celebrates his major contribution as a pop artist.
In 1957 Gerald Laing resigned from the army and enrolled in St. Martin’s School of Art in London. Motivated by the desire to abandon the fears and inhibitions of a society growing stagnant and create a more credible set of values, Laing joined the growing number of people demanding new solutions to everything.
Laing was given his first show at St. Martins in 1963, and it was here that he first exhibited one of his best known paintings Brigitte Bardot, a print version of which is included in this exhibition. 1963 was also the year the Laing first traveled to the United States, where he met several emerging American artists such as Andy Warhol, James Rosenquist, and Roy Lichtenstein. He spent the rest of that summer working for Robert Indiana and after completing art school, returned to New York for the remainder of the 60s.
Laing’s work is strong and vibrant. His bikini girls, from his portfolio Baby Baby Wild Things, are young women in bathing suits set against bold, monochromatic backgrounds. Based on magazine photographs, the girls were first painted in the early 1960s and later made into prints. The girls radiate sexual energy, as they pose and perform, as if taking part in a photo shoot. Playful and flirtatious, the Baby Baby Wild Things possess a girl-next-door quality while simultaneously representing an inaccessible ideal.
This sense of unattainable perfection translates to Laing’s dragsters, which explore the allure of what was then beautiful, new technology. The smooth fiberglass shell of a Formula One car references the skin of the Baby Baby Wild Things, whose striped bikinis resemble racing stripes. His skydivers and dragsters embody a heroism and victory over, as Laing calls it, the “grim utilitarianism of post-war Britain.” Though these images are fragmented and reduced to their geometry, the billowing parachutes and smoking tires provide a sense of dynamism and speed that compliments the flat planes of color.