Throughout the centuries many artists and designers have been fascinated by the female form. Between the 1920s and the '30s French designer Erté revealed for example an obsessive fixation with the female form that helped shaping, formulating and celebrating the fashionable female silhouette of those years. Roland Barthes stated that with Erté "it is not the female body that is clothed...it is the dress that is extended into the body...for Erté's forms, properly unrealistic, are indifferent to what is underneath". Hence the main function of Erté's silhouettes was to propose an object, a concept or a form.
Among the modern fashion designers who displayed a fascination with the female form there is Alexander McQueen, who, in turn, admired pieces created by artist Allen Jones (McQueen bought one of his sculptures/tables and his armadillo shoes can be considered as a reworking of a 1968 design by Jones).
A current exhibition at the London-based gallery Marlborough Fine Art, entitled "Allen Jones: Colour Matters", combines the artist's interest in female silhouettes with his renewed interest in bright and vibrant nuances and visual abstractions.
As a student Jones was influenced by the art of Robert Delaunay, while being also fascinated by Jackson Pollock. As the years passed, inspired by Pop Art and in particular by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Claes Oldenburg, he developed his own language and tried to create art pieces that revolved around the human figure, and that borrowed from images seen in the seedy bookshops of Times Square.
At the end of the '60s Jones completed his first life-size image of a woman-slave, a chair with fetishist and sado-masochist overtones, through which, the artist claimed, he wanted to offend the canons of accepted worth in art.
In 1970 Tooth Gallery in London held a one-man sculpture show by Jones that gained him notoriety for featuring life-scale images of sexually provocative women turned into furniture (a hat stand, table and chair). The pieces enraged feminists who dubbed them as "supremely exploitative of women's already exploited image".
By the mid 1970s, Jones was again focusing on canvas and painting; in more recent years, between teaching and taking part in international events, Jones started using colours in a graphic way to introduce the notion of movement in figures, and also created large steel sculptures.
Jones first showed with Marlborough Fine Art in 1971, and this new event marks his fourth exhibition with the gallery. While Jones' seminal exhibition at Tooth Gallery made history for featuring works in which women were subjugated, this new event mainly includes three-dimensional works such as fibreglass sculptures that may prove interesting also for fashion fans.
Jones' "Green Shoes" and "Black Shoes" (both 2015) are indeed totemic transparent Perspex columns that contain real clothes such as a pair of '60s vintage green high-heels and a green sequin bikini or a pair of fetishistic black shoes. The position of the garments and accessories suggests the shape of the female form wearing them, and the totems are completed by cut-out acrylic heads painted in a range of blue, pink and yellow tones. In Jones' "Queen" works, abstract figures are instead executed in timber and coated in glossy spray-paint to produce reflective curved surfaces.
Though the main materials employed for these pieces point back to the artists' early works (Jones first started working with Perspex and fibreglass over 50 years ago, whilst living in America), in these new works the artist explores a more abstract dimension.
There is also a further connection with fashion in this event - Jones's work on the subject of Kate Moss. The artist photographed the model for his iconic portrait "Body Armour" (2013), depicting Moss wearing a body cast sculpture he made in 1978. In the series "A Model Model" (2015) Jones presents figurative interpretations of Kate Moss, tackling relationships between colour, material and form via sculptures of the model made with a wooden body with a glass reinforced composite head or a polished stainless steel body with a cast resin head.
Jones' interest in the female form returns in "The Blue Gymnast WIP" (2014), a fibreglass mannequin of a woman wearing a skin-tight blue leotard that calls back to mind Jones' more fetishistic works, but pieces such as "Let's Dance" (2015) with figures executed in abstract shapes made from interlocking sheets of aluminium, explore the new possibilities of the human body.
"Allen Jones: Colour Matters" will definitely help refocusing on the artist's more recent career, but it also represents a chance to ponder a bit more about his fetishistic works from the '70s. Jones's representation of women can indeed be read as an interpretation of what men see when they look at and think about women, or at the process of appropriating, manipulating and controlling women's bodies, something practiced not just by men in general but by the fashion industry as well.
"Allen Jones: Colour Matters", Marlborough Fine Art, 6 Albemarle Street, London W1S 4BY, UK, until 23rd January 2016.
Image credits for this post
All images Courtesy the artist and Marlborough Fine Art, London
Allen Jones, The Blue Gymnast, 2014
Mixed media, 215 x 89 x 45 cm
Allen Jones, Red Shoes, 2015
Perspex and mixed media, 198 x 60 cm x 45 cm
Allen Jones, Red Queen, 2014
Timber figure, spray painted, Perspex head, 193 x 55 x 55 cm
Allen Jones, Red Head, 2015
Perspex, 36 x 40 x 20 cm
Allen Jones, Painted Red Sketch, 2015
Perspex and oil paint, 25 x 38 x 20 cm
Allen Jones, Painted Blue Sketch, 2015
Perspex and oil paint, 31 x 46 x 26 cm
Allen Jones, Let's Dance, 2014-15
Painted aluminium, 173 x 134.5 x 48.3 cm
Allen Jones, Green Shoes, 2015
Perspex and mixed media, 186 x 60 cm x 45 cm
Allen Jones, Black Shoes, 2015.
Mixed media, clear perspex body, with objects inside, and painted perspex head, 198 x 70 x 53 cm
Allen Jones, Cover Story, 2015
Spray painted fibreglass with leather accessories and stainless steel stand, 160 x 45 x 45 cm
Allen Jones, Blue Queen, 2015
Mixed media, timber figure, spray painted, perspex head, 193 x 55 x 55 cm
Allen Jones, A Model Model, 2014-15
Polished stainless steel body, spray painted cast resin bust, 185.5 x 86 x 79 cm
Member of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos