Universal truths

British-born painter Gerald Laing was part of the 1960s Pop Art movement, capturing that era’s cultural icons with the gloss of advertising’s mass aesthetic. This show presents paintings he did in 2004-5, revisiting his old style to depict the harrowing abuses in Abu Ghraib jail, carried out by Allied officers against Iraqi prisoners. It’s a strange juxtaposition. These aesthetic tropes appear as capable of expressing uncomfortable truths today as the original Pop Art was. James Rosenquist’s panoramic work, F-111, painted in 1964-5, flirted with political danger, depicting a fighter plane adorned with smiling US children next to nuclear explosions, and referencing the ambiguity of the Cold War. Laing’s subject matter is, by contrast, more recent and painful. By transcending the decades, we are in a time warp of sorts. Using familiar 1960s tropes – the Brillo box, abstract flat colours, Laing’s dotted X-ray panels denoting hotspots of anxiety – to depict a contemporary wound makes these paintings seem anachronistic, yet the result is toxic and haunting.Gerald Laing/ War Paintings runs from 27 February until 31 March at The Mayor Gallery, 22a Cork Street, London W1

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