The significance of Colin Chapman extends well beyond engineering and motor racing. His achievements in these fields percolated out into popular culture. We have seen this in several forms and A&R articles listed below cover aspects pertinent to the 1960’s.
His success and products impacted on a generation and such was their aura and reputation that they have been recorded in art. The A&R has explored Lotus in motorsport art The power and association engendered by Lotus also impacted into Pop Art and this piece is devoted to a painting by Gerald Laing focusing exclusively on a Lotus Formula I racing car.
With the passage of time it’s easy to overlook the enormity of impact Colin Chapman and Lotus created.
The editors believe that the achievements of Chapman outside motor racing are culturally important and in many respects equal to his competition success. In this article we will explore the work and career of Gerald Laing and briefly the British Pop Artist and explain how and why Lotus became a focus.
Chapman’s and Lotus impact and fixation in human psyche is very significant with both cultural and financial value to the nation. This has possibly not always been fully realized or calculated.
Subscribers might like to see directly relevant and complementary A&R articles:-
- Lotus Design Decades -!960’s
- Lotus, Boutique Culture Carnaby Street and Mary Quant
- The Avengers
- Fine Art of Motor Sport: the work of motoring artists
Brief Introduction of Pop Art
Pop Art belongs to the post war period. Many will think that Pop Art and the Pop music of the 1960’s are synonymous. Although there are overlaps and some shared focus they are not necessarily interchangeable and pop art is not exclusively about record sleeve designs [ although Peter Blake /Jann Haworth and identified with Sgt.Pepper]
Pop Art belonging to the post war generation partly responds to the ground breaking events of the Second World War including much of its technology, the mutated emerging technology, social change accompanied by demographics. Not least were the economic changes in society reflecting the youth market and the Americanization of Western culture through consumerism.
The editors believe that pop Art is a complex artistic phenonimina.It seems a hybrid and often contains references that reach back to:-
- The Bauhaus [ see dedicated A&R article]
- Surrealism and some aspects of Futurism
- Cubism and Abstract Art
- American commercial /graphic art related advertising and hence production into mass production, distribution and consumption
- Media imagery and film/cinema. “movies”
- High tech industries including Energy and production methods
- Science fiction
- Mass communications, media
Multi medium were often incorporated in their pieces and collage and assemblages merged and were lifted from the mass media newspapers magazines and comics etc.
Perhaps too the Pop Artists were part product of the era, the Art Schools, their generation of teachers and the curriculum.
Within the work of the Pop Artists the editors detect a curious mixture of cynicism, commercialism, satirical attack and to some extent a sub-culture /folklore and even “underground”. Pop Art is often perceived as hybrid and a mixture part “abstract art an ambiguous container for Pop culture”
Pop Art in some respects was less challenging than Pop music of the generation.
British Pop Artist Richard Hamilton possibly most succinctly summed up the movement as containing:-
“Popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous and big business”
Notable artists taken from net
The editors would also add:-
- Richard Smith
- RB Kitaj
- Larry Rivers
- Jann Hanworth
- Sarah Jackson
Graham-Dixon suggests that:-
“Pop Art challenged the distinction between “high” and “low” art. And became the dominant movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s in Britain and the US its imagery from popular culture, made it accessible, popular and commercially successful”
Pop Art attracted some severe criticism and was labeled by some as non or anti art.Its content perceived as low culture and commercially driven produced by “gum-chewers and delinquents”.
It’s worth noting that the 1960’s witnessed perhaps considerable prosperity and the emergence of a new generation of art dealers /collectors forming an expanding art market who perhaps realized that most of the old masters were not available or in museums. Pop Art was ripe for speculation .The artists producing it possibly realized this [note conduct of Gerald Laing] and either cynically or merely adopted the consumerist creed and joined a band wagon.
Many observers might have considered it a process of dumping down that has continued in many respects to the present day.
British Pop Art
The editors are not art experts and recommend readers to access the references works given below to better appreciate Pop Art in relation to products and fashion etc. in general circulation through the 1960’s.”Sixties Style” being considered an excellent introduction to the genre and the more practical use and interpretation of style.
The editors share the view that Richard Hamilton’s [painter and collage artist] was extremely influential on the development of the British Pop Art Movement. His exhibition of 1955 entitled “Man, Machine ,Motion” set a tone and provided a focus and momentum. It is both interesting and significant that he should wish to explore the subjects of speed, mobility, mechanization and innovation. It’s not incomprehensible that Gerald Laing should see these works and mutate the subject matter.Hamilton took and adapted a vintage racing car photograph as talisman. The Tate Gallery hold a collection of his work.
“This is Tomorrow” is considered watershed and a seminal art exhibition held in 1956 at the White Chapel Gallery, and to many critics it’s considered the event that kick started British Pop Art.
Groups of artists, architects, musicians and graphic artists formed multi-disciplinary teams and addressed issues. Notable contributions came from the architect’s partnership of the Smithson’s.
Significant British Pop Artists are: Richard Hamilton, Sir Peter Blake, Jann Haworth and Allen Jones.
British Pop Art evolved in possible several phases which were generationally based. In the later part of the 1960’s becoming more under the influence of the hippies. Some of the sexiness used in Hamilton’s definition might be identified with the then very controversial work of Allen Jones.
The editors would contend some aspects of Pop Art continues today.
Brief Biography of Gerald Laing -1936/ 2011
Gerald Laing was born in Newcastle in 1936.His farther was soldier and initially Gerald followed being educated at Sandhurst then being posted to Northern Ireland.
Gerald later undertook formal art training at St. Martin’s in London where several waves of young artists evolved into Pop Artists. His earliest work included the large format /huge canvasses hand paintings taken from / based upon newspaper photographs. He adopted images of starlets and film stars like Anna Karina [illustrated below] and Bridget Bardot.
Livingstone notes some of this work possessing a “billboard monumentality”
Figure 1Anna Karina by Gerald Laing [early work]
In 1963 he travelled to America and was based briefly in New York. He was influenced by Phillips, Warhol, and Lichtenstein and briefly was studio assistant to Indiana.
Inspired by American culture he produced a series of works based around:-
- Drag Races and Drivers
- Bikini clad starlet females
Figure 2Typical Drag Racer from period in US cf Lotus 1, 1963
Typical titles were Skydiver VI  and Deceleration I 
Laing’s work exuded exuberance, excitement and obvious sex appeal so identified with the 1960’s. He returned to Britain only to reestablish himself in the US until the late 1960’s.
Phillips and Laing formed Hybrid Enterprises which was truly market research orientated in a very commercial sense. It sought to establish what the market would require and purchase. I.e. “an art object for the informed customer” Laing later observed it in part comprised “an assemblage of trendy 60’s notions”
Disillusioned with various events, hubris and manipulative nature of the art market etc. he established himself in Scotland where he restored a house that was part home and studio. He took up sculpture and casting; part assisted by his son.
In the later part of his career he undertook some significant sculpture that resulted in prominent public commissions. A notable example is the four rugby players staging a line out. This work of 1995 is near Twickenham Station and home of English Rugby.
He also revisited the Pop Art style with some powerful images of the late Amy Winehouse.
In many respects Gerald Laing was a very rounded and accomplished artist who undertook painting ,weaving and sculpture. Many believe he was possibly the anthesis of the wayward artist and much of his discipline might be attributed to his Sandhurst training.
Critics have suggested amongst his work has been “some of the most significant works of British Pop Art “and that he “was one of the most important artists of his generation”
For many he occupied an important role amongst the Avant garde world of Pop Art in the 1960’s.
Lotus 1. : A description
This work might be described briefly as containing/ comprising:-
- Large slightly off-square canvass 45 x 56 inches
- A forceful dynamic composition with near perfect diagonal orientation
- The truncated composition conveys massive speed as in both enters and leaves the frame
- This sense of speed is accentuated by the suggestion of the track and car vaulting a brow
- Elementary primary colours of cartoon/graphic boldness seem to be adopted
- The driver is not formally identified as is the car but the whole composition is entrenched in a Lotus iconography, the car is only known by race no 21.
- The image is punchy, in your face close up graphic and highly stylized
- It possesses the quality of an intentional print i.e. accentuation the possibilities/ strengths of medium boldness and simplicity
Chapman, Lotus and Popular Culture
In 1963 Chapman would achieve along with this staff and drivers:-
- 1963 World F1 Drivers and Constructors Championships [Jim Clark]
- 1963 2nd place at Indianapolis [Jim Clark]
- Entered Le Mans and triumphed within their class on several occasions
- Dominated British club racing for a decade
- Produced some highly significant and iconic road cars i.e. Seven and Elite.
Chapman and Lotus formed a complex dynamic. Innovation drove competition success at the highest international level. Success brought publicity, acceptance, a desire to be associated with [identification] it additionally brought significant engineering and related income to British and particularly motor sport.
It is through this virtuous cycle that Chapman and Lotus entered the cultural dimension and currency. This must never be misunderstood or underestimated.
It was deserved and contributed financially and morale along with esteem to Britain only a short time after the Second World War.
Lotus was the chosen vehicle of celebrities and pop stars. Lotus radiated symbolism and was deeply emblematic. It possessed aura, mystique and renown. It conferred status, prestige trendiness [cool] on its owner /drivers. Lotus had entered a Parthenon from which it was recognized and had a distinct perception and consciousness.
Born of these powerful qualities it earned a certain indelible factor and contributed to cognition. The decade of the 1960’s ushered in a cultural renaissance in Britain. Lotus engendered a pride and a powerful identification with rationality, modernity and aesthetics. Chapman Lotus were of the moment and captured the creativity of a youthful generation. Chapman’s products possessed a certain genius loci.
It was probably all these qualities of idealism, optimism and wellbeing that the Pop Artists like Laing picked up on.
Laing’s painting of the Lotus single seat racing car was therefore not so much a representation of machinery he chose to capture a totality and expresses the Lotus as a powerful token and cultural totem of the era. He rendered it thus allegorical and metaphorical and possibly most holistic and beautiful interpretation.
The Proposed CCM&EC
The proposed museum believes that commercial considerations are both necessary and complementary with its educational objectives.
For these reasons our Business Plan includes provision for promoting products and services which share Chapman’s ideals of mechanical efficiency and sustainability. In addition we propose merchandising that explain and interprets the social and cultural context of Chapman’s designs in period. It’s suggested there will be catalogue for on line purchasing.
In particular it’s recommended that a range of exhibitions can be delivered exploring the interaction of engineering and art, art and culture along with art and technology through history. The London dimension is an important factor than can be exploited with great opportunity for interactive interpretation and reenactment and not least access to our foremost Modern Art Galleries… To engender and interpret the cultural pulse of the nation during the Pop Art era exhibitions can call on a host of support materials not least fashion, photography, music and poetry.
The editors believe it extremely important to chart the cultural dimension and impact of Colin Chapman and Lotus. We shall continue to do this with diverse interpretation.
The decade of the 1960’s is considered a Renaissance by the editors [see A&R article –Design Decades: 1960’s] throughout the world it produced some incredible leaders, thinkers artists and musicians. These include John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, Bertram Russell, and the feminist movement. In Britain we produced style icons and artists/ musicians that included John Lennon/The Beatles, The Who, George Best, and in fashion Mary Quant, the models like Twiggy provided the high fashion celebrity chic and the photograph that gave them international status like David Bailey and Terrence Donovan. In the cinema films from Alfred Hitchcock, Michael Caine and Sean Connery won international acclaim.
The 1960’s were technologically driven ranging from the space race, to health science including birth control and the first heart transplant and electronics
In 1963 the Labour leader Harold Wilson delivered his “white heat” speech. In this he postulated if the country was to prosper a “New Britain” would need to be forged in the “white heat” of this scientific revolution. He was not able to deliver entirely on this and has been criticized for inconsistency. However there were the entrepreneurs and engineers who seized the moment and these included Mary Quant, Jimmy Laker [airline entrepreneur] and Sir Terrence Conran [Habitat etc.].The engineers designed and built the Mini [Alec Issigonis], A.Moulton, the Jaguar E Type and Concorde.
Colin Chapman was one of the foremost entrepreneurs of the era. As both manufacturer and team owner he was driving innovation. Achieving international race success and influencing taste through fashion and image [ see A&R article “The Avengers”].The editors therefore believe he compares favorably in many respects with some of the greatest icons of the 1960’s [ see also A&R article 20th Century Motoring Icons]
To underestimate this fact does the nation and extreme disservice both culturally, with regard to Industrial Design and the implications extend into wealth creation and tourism. As in the 1960’s its considered necessary that the nation not to rest on its laurels ; the present requires the energy ,vision ,innovation and urgency that Chapman galvanized and was able to permeate so much into a virtuous circle that helped Britain establish an international reputation beyond motor racing.
To be enshrined in popular art is an indication of the magnitude of the impact and relevance.
NB Images taken from Gerald Laing – see www.geraldlaing.com [images on net]
Pop Art.Lucy Lippard.Thames & Hudson.1970.
Styles, Schools, &Art Movements.Demsey.Thames & Hudson
Pop Art-50 works.Honnef & Grosenick.Taschen.
Pop Art-50 works.von Wyk.Prestel.2013.
Pop Art.McCarthy.Tate Gallery.
Andy Warhol.Ketner II.Phaidon.2013.
Art & the 60’s-This was tomorrow.Ed. Stephens & Stout.Tate.2004
Sixties Style.J.Miller.Dorling Kindersley.2006.
Please note the editors of the A&R attempt to give the broadest spectrum of references but not all are available for consultation in an article. However by noting their existence it may assist students in their research.
*Items in italics non A&R library books.