The Sixties were a time of social liberation, political turmoil and shifting societal norms. It was a time that saw a reassessment of the boundaries between high art and popular culture, and just over half a century later the so-called ‘Pop’ pictures produced at this time continue to captivate our imagination with their audacious images and bold youthful spirit.
Whilst Pop Art from the 1960s is often most strongly associated with artists working out of New York, London was at the same time developing a reputation as a hub of this cultural shift; as stated in an article in Time magazine in 1966: ‘In a decade dominated by youth, London has burst into bloom. It swings; it is the scene.’ As epicentres of a new kind of urban, sensational artistic production, there was a fascinating interaction between London and New York, with a raw dynamism which permeated both cities. This shaped the vibrant work produced by Pop artists at the time, and is particularly evident in British artist Gerard Laing’s Skydiver 2, which is appearing in the Modern and Post-War British auction this June.
GERALD LAING, SKYDIVER 2. ESTIMATE £250,000–350,000.
It was during a trip to New York, while working in Robert Indiana’s loft on the Coenties slip in Manhattan in the summer of 1963, that Laing met Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and James Rosenquist, at their Six Painters and The Object show at The Guggenheim. Here he would have encountered works such as Lichtenstein’s Ice Cream Soda and Rosenquist’s Four 1949 Guys and he was inspired by the dominant use of primary colours as well as the hard-edged technique that dominated many of the canvases.
Pop art was unconventional: what it lacked in specified aims, it made up for with a focus on the intoxicating fervour of the time. On both sides of the Atlantic, Pop art drew on witty, glamorous imagery that was aimed at a youthful audience and reflected the hedonism of the day. Laing’s concentration on the subjects of dragsters, skydivers, astronauts and starlets speaks of an idealised vision of contemporary heroic figures drawn from the mass culture of the era. The subject of the skydiver was derived from American media, as he combined two different images he encountered in Life Magazine during his summer in New York, and the second a man appearing to fly unhindered at altitude. The raw energy of the composition speaks of an impulsive fearlessness: jumping into the unknown. Much like the Sixties itself, it symbolises an eternal spirit of youth and the freedom that comes with it, as well as epitomising the radically adventurous spirit of the time.
The Modern & Post-War British Art sale is in London on 13-14 June