Meet Allen Jones RA

‘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.’ (https://www.royalacademy.org.uk)

Growing up in the suburbs of London, nature was the city. Like many of the Pop art legends working in the 60’s and 70’s, the city and modern life is the inspiration of the subject matter of the work. Much of Allen’s work is inspired by advertising, and the allure of city life. A close friend and peer of David Hockney, Allen’s career has been under the spotlight for over half a century not least for its controversial subject matter. He is best known for his paintings, sculptures, and lithography. He was awarded the Prix des Jeunes Artistes at the 1963 Paris Biennale and is a Senior Academician at the Royal Academy of Arts. His best known work Hatstand, Table and Chair, involving fibreglass "fetish" mannequins, debuted to protests in 1970.

Allen uses the city and people as his inspirations rather than the natural world and ‘what emerges is a visual language fusing painterly tradition with the iconography of city life, theatre, and advertising – a language inspired by American consumer culture and the crisp graphics of Warhol and Lichtenstein’.

He has a self-professed obsession with the female figure, which has become the consistent subject within his work. After years of studying the body as an artist, Jones arrived at a style intentionally on the outskirts of the mainstream art tradition. In his hyper-saturated paintings, his figures are bold and relate to the women that soar high above us on billboards. But very quickly Jones realised that he could invade the space with these figures, pulling them out of the frame and ‘walking about the gallery’. His most infamous ‘invasion’ is his ‘Hatstand, table and chair’ piece. During an exhibition at the Tate Gallery, Jones's Chair was attacked with paint stripper on International Women's Day by feminists who deemed the piece as female objectification. Then later on at an exhibition in 1978 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, more women let off stink bombs.

Jones has since talked lengthily about his work in relation to these events and there has been extensive critique into whether his art is sexist. In his own words “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.”

He says one unexpected consequence of the furniture was a “freeing up” of his painting. “I’d been trying to paint volume in a way that grabbed the viewer’s attention. Now the sculptures allowed me to do that, it allowed the paintings to become paint again.”

Recently he photographed Kate moss wearing a sculpture he made. This piece requires someone to wear it, and who better than the starlet of our time, whose face is repeated daily in advertising campaigns worldwide. The final work is called body armour, and perhaps this is how we should view Allen’s work. Whether you agree with the politics of it or not, the work is arresting and commands an emotive response, drawing on recognisable imagery to create pieces that are a reaction to the Ziet Geist, and as he puts it ‘I suppose, it’s about sex in a funny way’.

Jones has taught at the Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg, the University of South Florida, the University of California, the Banff Center School of Fine Arts in Canada, and the Berlin University of the Arts. His works reside in a number of collections; including the Tate, the Museum Ludwig, the Warwick Arts Centre and the Hirshhorn Museum.

We are so excited to have Allen on board with the trust, and to see how he approaches our Art on a Ukulele project so please join us to find out more by having a look at our Phundee page and getting involved, and signing up to our mailing list (at the bottom of the page) to receive updates about this project and to find out about our crowdfunding campaign, the rewards we are offering and be part of the process over the next week.