‘Jones does for the leg what Stubbs did for the horse’ John McEwan (art critic)
Allen Jones R.A. (b.1937) is one of Britain’s most distinguished and seductive artists from the pioneering Pop Art movement. Ahead of a major retrospective at the Royal Academy this November, here is a brief overview of Jones’s life, work and influences.
Allen Jones was one of an outstanding generation of young painters, which included Patrick Caulfield, David Hockney and R.B. Kitaj, who studied together at the Royal College of Art, London and were responsible for producing the first coherent exhibitions of British Pop Art, a movement that used the imagery of mass culture as the basis for its art.
Jones later recalled that by the end of the 1950s a new visual language was developing. ‘Our “nature” and inspiration was the urban life all around us: advertising, cinema, the proliferation of magazines and the pinball culture imported from America. I became excited by the aggressive strength that was present in depictions of the figure, outside the umbrella of “fine art”.’
Art as Provocation
In the mid-’60s Jones visited the States, living in America for a year, and was deeply impacted by the experience, returning to England determined to introduce a new clarity to his paintings, which he proceeded to do in a series of powerful canvases depicting stockinged legs in high heels. By the end of the decade, his work had burgeoned into three dimensional, with the controversial ‘furniture’ sculpture.’
Jones intended the furniture to provoke – not as a political gender statement – but as art. These sculptures are about the way we see things – in particular, the human figure and the functional object. They are also significant in broadening the definition of figurative sculpture.
Sheer Magic, 1967 (oil on canvas), Jones, Allen (b.1937) / Private Collection
‘Top-shelf magazine meets fine art; high-heeled, fetishistic women parade through a world of Matissean colour.’ Andrew Lambirth
Painting is, in many respects, Jones’s first love accounting for the larger part of his artistic output through a career that has lasted for more than forty-five years. In the famous Bus paintings of 1962, Jones adopted a shaped canvas to convey movement. They are also notable for their brilliance of colour, adopting a red/green polarity.
After his visit to the States, the painterly brushmark disappeared largely from Jones’s work to be replaced by a harder-edged, graphic style reminiscent of commercial illustration.
Allen’s later series of works include fresh, colourful watercolours and sculptures of interlocking couples that ask philosophical questions about humanity including the theory that each of us is a mixture of male and female. The chief distinguishing features of Allen Jones’s work are his expert draughtsmanship, visual wit and passionate colour.
Arabesque, 1997 (painted steel) by Allen Jones / Bridgeman Images