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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

Gerald Laing (1936–2011)

Sculptor, painter, printmaker and bronze-founder. He was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and after training at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, joined the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. Resigning his commission in 1960, he enrolled at St Martin’s School of Art, where he began his association with the artists of the emergent British Pop Art movement, and with whom he exhibited in the seminal Young Contemporaries show at the RCA Galleries, London, in 1963. For much of the remainder of the 1960s he lived in New York, where his images of drag racers, skydivers and Hollywood starlets, together with his inventive mimicry of the Ben-Day dots of newsprint, brought him considerable commercial success. In 1969 he returned to the UK, but instead of re-joining the London art scene he chose to make his home in Kinkell Castle, a ruined sixteenth-century tower house in a remote part of the Black Isle near Inverness, the restoration of which was recorded in the publication Kinkell: the reconstruction of a Scottish castle (1974). By this time, his attention had switched to the production of large, totemic abstract sculptures, mostly fabricated from industrial materials such as Corten steel, and designed for landscape settings. These were followed by what Laing himself described as an ‘epiphany’, when a chance encounter with Sergeant Jagger’s Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner prompted him to question the aesthetic and moral basis of his work as a Pop artist, and to embrace the more ‘humanist’ practice of producing figurative works on a monumental scale. With the guidance of the master metal-worker George Mancini, he established his own bronze-casting foundry at Kinkell, from which flowed a succession of major public commissions, including a bronze frieze, The Wise and Foolish Virgins (1977–79), on the Standard Life Aberdeen plc building, George Street, and the monument to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1989–91), Greenside, Edinburgh; and a number of sporting monuments such as Batsman (2001) for Lord’s cricket ground, London, and Line-out (2010), Twickenham Stadium. In the last decade of his life, Laing returned to his roots as a Pop artist, producing a series of bitter-sweet paintings and screen prints in which Amy Winehouse replaced Brigitte Bardot as signifier of the glamour, and the tragedy, of contemporary popular culture. It should be noted that in 1968 the artist changed his surname by deed poll to Ogilvie-Laing, but continued to exhibit, and publish, under the name given at the head of this entry.

Bibliography: F. Lloyd et al, Public Sculpture of Outer South and West London, Liverpool, 2011, pp. 296–97; R. McKenzie, Public Sculpture of Edinburgh (2 vols), Liverpool, 2018, vol. 1, pp. xxiv, 261–62, vol. 2, pp. 79–86, 165–73, 479–84; D. Macmillan, ‘Laing, Gerald Ogilvie-’, ODNB, 2015; D. Merritt and F. Greenacre, with K. Eustace, Public Sculpture of Bristol, Liverpool, 2011, pp. 161–62; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of the City of London, Liverpool, 2003, pp. 29–30.

Ray McKenzie 2018