Women Today: Allen Jones at the RA

As part of our month long look at themes around ‘Women Today’ CRAVE went along to the much anticipated exhibition at the RA of one of Britain’s most influential Pop artists, Allen Jones.

With contemporaries like Hockney and heavily inspired by Andy Warhol and Lichtenstein, the name Allen Jones has at times been overshadowed, and yet his work remains some of the most impactful when it comes to popular culture and the media’s relationship with the female form. This unique opportunity to view a collection of his artworks up close, as well as in the context of the development of his career, has made the exhibition an unmissable appointment to view. Jones describes the exhibition as ‘a survey show’ pointing out that it doesn’t qualify as a retrospective as it doesn’t contain everything he’s ever done.

This uncompromising attitude to capturing it all is, in fact, one of the many things that sings out in the work itself. There’s nothing shy or reserved about the vast canvases exploding with unapologetic use of colour, or the large steel sculptures in punchy primary hues portraying entangled male and female forms, locked in dance. The steel sculptures in particular, with their unusual fusion of 2D shapes twisted into 3D arrangements appear as if they have Tangoed off the canvases of his paintings from the same period. There is a striking fluidity to his interpretation of the human form, but also notably a blurred distinction between male and female sexuality.

The exhibition abandons chronology to examine his works from the point of view of connections and themes. The largest of the rooms focuses on the paintings in the collection, with the second and third rooms focusing on the steel sculptures and fibreglass single figure sculptures respectively. The result is an emerging prominence of the iconography of city life, theatre, and powerful social and cultural influencers such as advertising. American consumer culture sings through at a time of post-war positivity with a message of ‘anything is possible’ Jones explains. Growing up in the British suburbs, Jones recalls how the Pop Art generation rejected studying nature, in favour of something closer to personal experience, and the swell of city life became the focus of the exploration of modern life for him and his peers.

Hand in hand with this rejection of what had come before, was a new way of depicting the figure, which abandoned ‘19th Century presets’ Jones explains. It’s hard to miss the obvious references to the mass produced portrayal of the female form through pornography and film, and Jones’ work reflects a tell-tale stylisation to a point of ‘pneumatic’ perfection.

Eventually, Jones made the leap from canvas to three-dimentional form through the medium of fibreglass, at the time itself a groundbreaking material, testament to his pioneering inclinations. Jones talks of his satisfaction at offending ‘the cannon of what Fine Art sculpture could be’ with his earlier sculptures which he himself considers his most radical.

For this very radicalism, Jones was often criticised and misunderstood, with many contemporary audiences reacting with shock to the renowned ‘furniture’ works. However, while it remains undeniable that Allen Jones’ work is at times provocative, it’s close proximity to modern life makes it wholly acceptable and relatable at the same time. In fact, there can be no disagreeing that the body of work on display, throwing a light on our relationship as a society and as individuals with the female form, is as relevant today as it was at the time of it’s conception.