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Allen Jones Retrospective at the Royal Academy of Arts

November 18, 2014

ArtsPaintingSculpture | by Maxine Kirsty Sapsford


First Step, 1966. Oil on canvas, 92 x 92 cm. London, Private Collection. Image courtesy of the artist. © Allen Jones
First Step, 1966. Oil on canvas, 92 x 92 cm. London, Private Collection. Image courtesy of the artist. © Allen Jones

 

The human figure as a subject of artistic contemplation is as old as Art itself, this classical subject matter is at its best in the hands of a gifted draftsman and we have been blessed with many such artists throughout history who knew the curve of the body and the lines of the face to the extent that a leg or a profile could be brought to life with a single stroke. Yet no other artist has ever depicted the human form like Allen Jones.

 

Interesting Journey, 1962. Oil on canvas, 61 x 51 cm. London, Private Collection. Photo: Private Collection. © Allen Jones
Interesting Journey, 1962. Oil on canvas, 61 x 51 cm. London, Private Collection. Photo: Private Collection. © Allen Jones

Jones’s draftsmanship is flawless, something akin to poetry in the way that confident sweeping lines seem effortlessly yet precisely placed. We are given just the right amount of information, no superfluous details; forms are pure and simple leaving us to marvel at their contours. Impressive though his hand is, this alone is not the defining characteristic of Jones’s work; his eye for colour is uniquely his own, juxtaposing mint greens with deep reds and vast areas of flat luminous yellow with thick navy blue outlines. There is an economy of colour and line that appeal to the senses in Jones’s work. His restricted colour palettes are flamboyant and fun with a cartoon feel that breathes life into the forms on his canvases. A style clearly influenced by their inception in the 60s, yet set apart from other artists of the time such as his fellow student David Hockney and Roy Lichtenstein, whose work Jones admired during his time in New York.

 

The Royal Academy currently has the largest collection of Jones’s work brought together since 1995, spanning his entire career; five decades from his drawings submitted to the Royal College of Art in 1959, through his early experimental works such as The Artist Thinks (1960) and Interesting Journey (1962) to those made this year like To Be Or Not To Be (2014).

 

With almost 100 works on display, this mammoth exhibition has been expertly curated in a manner that doesn’t follow the traditional chronological route; ‘The works are grouped into key sequences, allowing connections and common themes to emerge and to promote a comprehensive understanding of Jones’s wide-ranging artistic practice.

 

Fascinating Rhythm, 1982-3. Enamel on plywood, 205 x 143 x 98 cm. Banbury, Private Collection. Image courtesy the artist. © Allen Jones
Fascinating Rhythm, 1982-3. Enamel on plywood, 205 x 143 x 98 cm. Banbury, Private Collection. Image courtesy the artist. © Allen Jones

 

Hat Stand, 1969. Mixed media, 191 x 108 x 40 cm. London, Private collection. Image courtesy the artist. © Allen Jones
Hat Stand, 1969. Mixed media, 191 x 108 x 40 cm. London, Private collection. Image courtesy the artist. © Allen Jones

A large part of the exhibition is devoted to Jones’s sculptures that appear in most rooms, culminating in Room 4 which feels somewhat like a ballroom. Flanked on all sides by stage- and circus-themed paintings, the twisted metal pieces painted in Jones’s trademark colours are made up of two-dimensional panels contorted and shaped, giving the impression of paintings that have peeled themselves from their canvases and taken to the floor. Cardboard Marquettes of a few of them can be seen in Room 2 on a re-creation of Jones’s studio shelving. The controversial and iconic furniture works that catapulted Jones into the limelight back in the 60s, Chair, Table and Hat Stand (1969) are also present in various rooms.

 

A second room devoted mainly to sculpture, Room 6 houses his more three-dimensional works, a few abstract pieces such as Totem (1986-89), his later paintings and Kate Moss pieces. In addition this room also houses Jones’s experimental works merging painting and sculpture to great effect in Stand In (1991/2) and Barely There (1967) in which tiled steps lead up and into the canvas.

 

 

Totem, 1986-9. Wood with embedded steel blades, 190 x 36 x 54 cm. Banbury, Private Collection. Image courtesy of the artist. © Allen Jones
Totem, 1986-9. Wood with embedded steel blades, 190 x 36 x 54 cm. Banbury, Private Collection. Image courtesy of the artist. © Allen Jones

The largest and most ambitious room has been set aside exclusively for Jones’s painting, incorporating works from his entire career. Walking around Room 3 alone provides an insight into Jones’s artistic development including early works where a heavy colour palette not yet fully refined comprises of earthy tones heavy in reds, greens, and blacks, reflecting his Fauvist influences. Surrealist influences and Jones’s lifelong flirtation with Abstract Expressionism can also be plotted on the walls of this room, which displays iconic works such as First Steps (1966) and the large multiple-canvased piece Interval (2007), one of several works in which Jones places different sized canvases together to create optical illusions of depth and space.

 

Jones is both a master of the classical figure and a pioneer pushing at the boundaries of his medium. A career of obsession over the figure, its line, form, and boundaries has lead Jones to literally deconstruct and ultimately master it in his pursuit of perfection of the female form.

 

Allen Jones RA in on at the Royal Academy of Arts until 25 Jan 2015. For more information go to http://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibition/allen-jones-ra

 

Maxine Kirsty Sapsford, Arts Editor

 

Stand In, 1991/2. Oil on plywood and fibreglass, 185 x 185 x 63 cm. Banbury, Private Collection. Image courtesy of the artist. © Allen Jones
Stand In, 1991/2. Oil on plywood and fibreglass, 185 x 185 x 63 cm. Banbury, Private Collection. Image courtesy of the artist. © Allen Jones