Amy Winehouse stares out from the wall of a London gallery. She’s pushing a vacuum cleaner, a cigarette dangling from her lips, a scarf in her unruly hair and a garbage bag in hand. The pose is unusual for a singer, apart maybe from Freddie Mercury in “I Want to Break Free.”
The oil-painted picture of the U.K. star, who died in July aged 27, is by Gerald Laing, 75, whose first muses were the actresses Brigitte Bardot and Anna Karina.
“Amy projected extraordinary images all the time,” Lang says in an interview. “Her dress sense was phenomenal. She was graphically wonderful in every way, with that body and hair, massive talent and a self-destructive streak.”
A press shot of her reaching for Champagne at an award ceremony is re-imagined as Rembrandt’s “Belshazzar’s Feast,” with her acolytes pixilated out and a Dutch still life of fruit placed among the bacchanalian forest of bottles.
“It was the passionate nature of it,” Laing says of a snatched snap of her on a red carpet, leaning to kiss husband Blake Fielder Civil. “She’s giving herself so totally to him. It was so evocative of Rodin’s ‘Kiss.’ The clothes, the pose -- it needed commemorating. I didn’t want this image to escape.”
Another embrace is the subject of “The Gethsemane Kiss.” Winehouse faces a wall of police in “Thus Far and No Further,” with Laing drawing on her increasingly complicated and messy life as paparazzi followed her every move.
Laing has had a zigzag career. Born in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, northern England, he was an army officer, attended St. Martin’s School of Art, then moved to New York as a Pop artist with peers and friends including Andy Warhol and Ed Ruscha. His paintings of skydivers, starlets and astronauts, with comic-book flat colors and print dots, recall both Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.
In 1969, disillusioned by the Vietnam War and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Laing moved to the ruined 16th-century Kinkell Castle in Scotland. He turned to abstract, minimalist sculpture and then figurative works inspired by his second wife, Galina Golikova. He has portrayed Luciano Pavarotti, Paul Getty (commissioned by the National Gallery, London) and director Sam Wanamaker. Laing is also known for monumental pieces such as the Rugby Players at Twickenham stadium and bronze dragons at London’s Bank station.
He recalls how in the 1960s he rescued tiny photos from newspapers and turned them into epic paintings. He returned to Pop Art in 2004 to depict the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. Not everyone understood as Laing says the American heroes of his youth had turned bad amid the “war on terror.”
He’s fascinated by “media obsession with celebrity froth” and started to work up portraits of stars such as Victoria Beckham and Kate Moss, though Winehouse fast overtook them.
Laing, wearing a tweed jacket, looks at his sculptures on the window sills in London’s private Club at the Ivy, where we talk. He shrugs when asked if he’s sorry that he never met Winehouse. He’s a big admirer, he says, though he lives in the remote Highlands in his now-restored castle.
“There are 14 Amy paintings and 30 or 40 drawings,” he says. “Then she died, the drama has ended and I wanted to put them together as a tribute, a sort of homage.”
Gerald Laing, “Amy Winehouse” is at Thomas Gibson Fine Art, 31 Bruton Street, Mayfair, London, W1J 6QS. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday to Friday through Nov. 10. Twenty percent of all sales of the limited-edition pictures will be donated to the Amy Winehouse charity launched by her father Mitch. Information: +44-20-7499-8572 or http://www.amywinehousefoundation.co.uk/, http://www.thomasgibsonfineart.com, http://www.geraldlaing.com. and http://www.kilmorackgallery.co.uk/artists/laing.html
(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)