Allen Jones interview: 'They are intended to be sexy objects’
The pop artist talks about working with Kate Moss and how everyone’s got an opinion on sex
Wed Nov 5 2014
'Hat Stand', 1969 © Allen Jones, courtesy the artist
'First Step', 1966 © Courtesy of the artist
'Interesting Journey', 1962 © Allen Jones. Photo: Private Collection
'Curious Woman', 1965 © Allen Jones, courtesy of the artist
'Totem', 1986-9 © Allen Jones, courtesy of the artist
'Stand In', 1991/2 © Allen Jones, courtesy of the artist
'Fascinating Rhythm', 1982-3 © Allen Jones, courtesy the artist
'Body Armour', 2013 © Allen Jones
'Hat Stand', 1969 © Allen Jones, courtesy the artist
In 1970, at Arthur Tooth and Sons gallery in Haymarket, Allen Jones's sculptures caused quite a stir. So much so that we're still talking about them 44 years later. Exhibiting scantily clad female figures as a table, chair and hat stand, Jones became the poster boy for anti-feminism. Yet these works are now included in the art history books and, nearly five decades later, the artist hopes they have 'vindicated themselves in terms of contemporary art'. We caught up with Jones at his Clerkenwell studio to talk about how, at the age of 77, he's till thought of as the bad boy of British pop art.
How do you go about making a show that looks back over you entire career?
'There will be paintings and sculptures. Some of the rooms will be named, such as "Chorus Line", where there will be a diagonal line of single figures going from the earliest wooden totem figures, through to work like the "Refrigerator" sculpture, made in 2002. What I like is that if you scan the line you'll see what my interests have been in any particular instance.'
Did you set out to be provocative?
'At the time I was trying to address the situation of how to exist and be relevant within the avant-garde art scene while representing the figure. By the late 1960s my paintings were inspired by pin-up art and adult erotic comics. I soon realised I wanted the figures to come out of the paintings but I didn't want to use traditional sculptural materials like stone, bronze or clay and I didn't want the sculptures to be about my expressive ability, or lack thereof, so I went to a commercial company.'
Care to explain the women-as-furniture idea?
'The standing figure, now called 'Hat Stand', was made. But it has nothing to do with hat stands. If you see hieratic figures in museums they are always just standing or making minimal gestures, so I thought the figure with the raised arms was a kind of greeting. In one of the magazines I was looking at there was a little cartoon drawing of a figure as a table and I thought it was a really funny idea and thought it did the trick. The fact that it became a symbol of the feminist critique was totally coincidental, but it was very powerful and has taken over the reading of that sculpture. There was nothing I could say for about ten to 15 years that didn't sound like an apology or excuse.'
‘The great thing about sex is that everybody has an opinion about it’
© Eamonn McCabe
How do you think today's generation views them?
'Images are much more available now than they were in the 1970s. It's very hard to convey that. Now, people can see what they like on their mobile phone. The sculptures are trapped in their time but hopefully people are robust enough to see them as playful, regard them as another way you can look at humanity. But they are intended to be sexy objects and that is one way of grabbing one's attention. The great thing about sex is that everybody has an opinion about it and you can't say "Oh you're not an expert." I fondly think that in 50 years' time, when a historian is trying to convey the climate of the '60s, when there was a dismantling of the rigid notions of the roles of the sexes, those sculptures might well be used to illustrate that awareness in a positive way.'
What's it like being thought of as part of the pop art movement?
'It's a peg to hang one's hat on and I suppose it gave me a context. But my interest in popular cultural and transgressive imagery has always been a source for different ways of representing the figure. In the late 1950s and early '60s, if you were a figurative artist it became clear that figuration was losing out to the main force of abstraction. The Pop movement was a figurative reaction to the fantastic weight of Abstract Expressionism.'
Your steel sculptures have a very different feel to them. It's as if they have been cut out of the paintings.
'It's interesting you say that because that's how the steel figures started. I wanted to make the figure real: when you cut them out they only exist in two dimensional space and there is no structure and they fall over. So I found that by flexing the form, scoring a line down the middle, I gave it strength. They're about the idea that there is no single view and that to see the volume of the figure you have to experience them in the round.'
You've worked with Kate Moss a few times in recent years, how did you go about transforming her into a sculpture?
'I got to know Kate when she came to the studio for a painting I was working on. Taking a photograph of her was irresistible, although I knew there was nothing that I could bring to the table that hadn't been done before. But it suddenly occurred to me that I had this sculpture that I'd never ever exhibited - it was for a movie I had an idea for all those years ago. It had always just been in the cupboard. I cut the head and arms off and put straps on it so it could be worn like body armour. Suddenly, I thought: This is it. I came up with a way of turning that old work into a sculpture and photographing Kate.'
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