“Few artists inflame debate like Allen Jones. Celebratory, satirical and boldly inventive, his work embraces popular culture and has in turn influenced everything from design to film and fashion.”
In December, I visited the Royal Academy of Arts in London to see the Allen Jones exhibition. I didn’t know much about Jones, but was excited to see something new and, hopefully, inspiring. When you enter the exhibition you’re immediately hit with bright and expressive work. Three of his sculptures were on display, full of colour and patterns, provocative and erotic. They make an impact and, after I researched them further at home, did definitely divide opinion.
It’s understandable to see why Jones’s work has caused controversy. When he produced the series above called Hatstand, Table and Chair there was somewhat of an outcry. He received a decent amount of sales, but many outraged accusations of misogyny also. Film-maker Laura Mulvey produced “You Don’t Know What Is Happening, Do You Mr Jones?”, which labelled the work as fetishistic and claimed that it was the result of a castration complex about which Jones was unaware. Then, in 1986, on International Women’s Day, Chair in the Tate was covered in paint stripper in an attempt to literally deface it (source).
He responded by saying “Of course the attacks were very upsetting”. “Anything I said to try to explain just came out as an excuse or a lame apology. I can see they are perfect images for an argument about the objectification of women, and if someone thinks that, it is very difficult to gainsay it. But it is a coincidental and unfortunate reading that has nothing to do with the work. As an artist, I have a responsibility to art. As a human being, I have a responsibility to society. I was brought up a socialist and I think of myself as a feminist and I don’t need to defend my political stance.” (source).
Despite the controversy, I found his paintings less shocking. I was particularly impressed by their often large scale, and extremely bold colours. He tackles topics that are still relevant today – sexuality, desires, money, fame. There is a sense of celebrity across his work; he captures moments of glamour amongst the rich and famous, celebrating their wealth. He could be celebrating too, or highlighting the flaws and loneliness that can come with this way of life. He creates a party on the canvas with bright marks and happy faces, forming a story. The use of colour carries through to his metal sculptures, that give you more each time you look at them. Something new is discovered when you study them from different angles, creating an almost interactive element to the work.
I found the whole experience interesting because of the bluntness and unapologetic nature of his work. Jones is not afraid to deal with almost taboo subjects in a bold way.
I do not own any of the photographs used in this post.