It’s so wonderful to review an artist you have loved for all your fetish life and for me that is 26 years. Allen Jones’ images have been etched into my psyche since my first club outing to Club Submission.
When all the popular press are wrestling with an authentic response based on the controversy of the past, my inner feminist critique of Allen Jones disappears, as I am a fetishist! So the problematic objectification of women – has simply become one of my favourite fetishes.
Ignoring the cacophany of mainstream opinions, my first thought at the Royal Academy’s new show was: I never realised Jones was such an accomplished painter, as I was more familiar with his sculputes. I wondered if the ‘vanillas’ would notice ALL the fetishistic nods to inanimate objects; feet, boots, corsets, and all with obscured faces? Scenes of partying in sleazy establishments, in these huge colour-drenched paintings of overwhelming sensuality. Did Mr Jones ever frequent fetish clubs and clip joints? Chances are he did, as there was no internet back then, for him to gather his fetish influences.
The Royal Academy’s retrospective starts with one of the most scandalous sculptures. ‘Table’, 1969, painted fibreglass, of a provocative, semi-naked woman in bondage gear. She is on all fours, to support a glass tabletop on her back. It’s my favourite. In a nod to AJ we shot a similar image for our Club Wonderland (Circa. London 2006/08) flyers, our model, Vanessa Upton was on her back holding a glass top table. Shockingly, this flyer was on display with Allen Jones work! I was floored!
‘Hat Stand’ 1969, painted fibreglass, is a mannequin in leather knickers and thigh-high boots. By dressing his figures in knee-high, lace-up boots or stiletto heels, Jones appears to make specific reference to a fetish. His desire to distort or exaggerate his statues has left the public at large, wondering if they were depictions of sexually available females?
Chair 1969, painted fibreglass, is arguably the most famous of the three: a woman lies on her back, with her knees against her chest and a cushion on top of her. That’s the seat, her calves make the chair’s back. While all the clothes – black leather gloves, boots and a strap – obvious references to bondage.
What I love about the exhibition is that it could have been made yesterday. Basically, fetish clothing doesn’t date! And no one ever tires of thigh high boots. So the three sets of crossed legs, disembodied pastel coloured ones, is iconic. Jones’s images have been so influential that almost no has copied him 40 years later. However, from the time they were created until 1986, when Chair was vandalised with acid, the sculptures were the subject of great anger. Controversy often indicates that a work of artist is way ahead of his time. You know, maybe it’s taken till now for folks to not bat an eyelid! He’s no longer ground breaking or controversial. It also underlines how much the world has changed. Culture has become even coarser and more assertive: it just makes me think of a popster on a wrecking ball!
Not all the sculptures are of the female form, some are made of painted wood and steel. They look like monoliths, kind of Japanese origami style and one of my highlights too. Mesmerising and unfathomable in their construction.
I love the art of Allen Jones – I’m a fetishist – it’s brilliant.