LONDON – As a major retrospective of his work opens at the Royal Academy, British Pop artist Allen Jones discusses controversy, Kate Moss and this survey exhibition.

ABOVE: ALLEN JONES, FIRST STEP, 1966. IMAGE COURTESY THE ARTIST © ALLEN JONES.

This exhibition reveals the development of your work from painting and drawing into sculpture. Why did you make that move?

Because the history of 20th century art was about the reality of the painted picture surface and if you were painting figures by definition you’re an illusionistic painter. One way of countering that is if you bolt something to the bottom of the canvas, or to the front of it, it incontrovertibly exposes the canvas as an object. Once you enter real space you’re taking on the world in a different way.

ALLEN JONES, FASCINATING RHYTHM, 1982–1983. IMAGE COURTESY THE ARTIST © ALLEN JONES.

Is it frustrating that those three controversial sculptures The Chair, The Table and The Hat Stand, are often the only thing people know you by? 

Well, it is better than them not knowing me at all! But yes, I mean they were done a long time ago, but I do take comfort in the story of Ravel who apparently just couldn’t stand listening to Bolero!

ALLEN JONES, HAT STAND, 1969. IMAGE COURTESY THE ARTIST © ALLEN JONES.

Some of the new pieces created for the show have parallels with some of your earlier work – for example the more abstract figures Red Queen from 2014 and Third Man from 1965 OR Totem from the 1980s. Does this reflect how you work?

The show is not necessarily chronological, but what I’d hoped with a retrospective show like this is that people who know the popular image of me as an artist because of one or two works might step back and see that one’s preoccupations moves in and out – one’s formal preoccupations are more broad.

ALLEN JONES, TOTEM, 1986–1989. IMAGE COURTESY THE ARTIST © ALLEN JONES.

Is there a reason that you do not take commissions for work?

I’ve only painted three women as commissions. One of them was, of course, Kate Moss, the other one was [ballerina] Darcey Bussell at the height of her dancing career, which was a request from the National Portrait Gallery. I found I was facing problems that I don’t usually encounter to do with that responsibility of representation and whether or not it descends into illustration. I don’t like painting that displays the difficulties of creation, so I think when you look at the exhibition, whatever my problems were in doing them, that should not be part of the paintings.

You were voted an academician in 1986 and have done numerous things at the Royal Academy in the past, such as curating the Summer Exhibition with David Hockney. Does it have any significance that the exhibition is here? 

Well they’re showing my work! The Academy, as with any institution, is that it is as good as the people that are in it. Apart from that it’s just bricks and mortar. The Academy when I was a young man and student was moribund. Gradually it changed as a result of a couple of the presidents being more forward-looking and now it is a range of artists and creators from across the spectrum of stylistic possibilities. One of the great things about the Academy is you are elected by your peers and that’s quite a good validation really.

While you worked on the exhibition did you re-acquaint yourself with things you haven’t seen for a long time or draw new connections between things?

I do have my photographic records and so on, but there were certain key works that I haven’t seen for a long time. And they are looking in much better condition than I am after 50 years!


Allen Jones
13 November–25 January
Royal Academy of Arts
Piccadilly, London