Allen Jones in conversation with James Sevier, March 2012
J.S: Your Table, Chair and Hatstand have become Pop Art icons, on a par with Andy Warhol's Marilyns and Roy Lichtenstein's Comic paintings. What was your inspiration for these works and what the response to them at the time?
AJ: In the late 60's I was adding shelves and steps to the bottom of my paintings, inviting the viewer to enter the picture space. It then occurred to me that the reverse might be the case, and that I had been wanting the figure to come down the steps into my space, to become real. To make this come true seemed a risky business, I did not want to make a sculpture that included the Expressionist involvement of my hand or be validated by being in stone or bronze. I used a commercial sculptor of waxworks and window manikins who turned my sketches into life-size clay figures that were then cast in fibreglass. The first was a standing figure (the Hatstand) with arms raised in welcome or display. My original intention was to dress it in street clothes, which made it look like a found object with connotations of Surrealism that I did not want. I needed to use garments that existed outside everyday wear and turned to the circus and adult theatre for ideas. The resulting sculpture still seemed anchored in the world of art and I chose to further dislocate the viewer's expectation by giving the sculptures a function. The subsequent pieces were made to look like a table and chair.
Your furniture embodies the spirit of the 1960s. It also references the growing feminist movement of that decade and fashion's objectification of women. Were these social concerns influential in your creative process? Or was it more a question of exploring the fundamental nature of figurative painting?
AJ: After the post-war austerity, rock and roll heralded the optimism of the sixties and an exciting change in the social order. I lived by the Kings Road, which provided a continuously evolving spectacle of what was and was not permissible in public dress. The advent of lycra enabled bodies to be revealed as never before whilst remaining covered. Stockings were replaced by tights that allowed hemlines to disappear into hotpants. Gender became an issue and not just for the nascent feminists. Boys could look like girls and vice versa. My subject was in the street, rather than the life room. After Abstract Expressionism the Pop movement reasserted the figure in art. My furniture sculptures were meant to challenge the canons of what sculpture could be, not what people were.
How influential has the furniture been on the rest of your work and the direction it took in the following decades?
AJ:After the furniture sculptures my imagery was able to relax back into the painted surface without me thinking I was going soft.
How many complete sets of the furniture are there in existence?
AJ: One set is in a German museum (Aachen) and I believe 2 sets are in private hands in Maastricht. I know that some pieces were lost in a bush fire in Australia, but I cannot recollect if it was a complete set.
The clothing for the sculptures was made by the famous British fashion designer Zandra Rhodes. How did this collaboration come about?
AJ: Zandra Rhodes was a good friend. Just as I had ordered the manufacture of the sculptures, I had the various garments made by the most appropriate people. Leatherwork from John Sutcliffe at Atomage who made the costumes for Emma Peal in "The Avengers". The boots were made by Anello & Davide, specialists in theatrical footwear. The yellow pants for the Table were a problem and Zandra took measurements from the sculpture and designed them for a custom fit. Dik Beech was the commercial sculptor. Keith Gems from Gems Wax Models did the casting whilst the bolero for the Hatstand was made by a student at Croydon College of Art.
How and when did you first meet Gunter Sachs?
AJ: Gunther Sachs invited my wife and me to stay in his penthouse at the Palace Hotel, St Moritz, soon after he had acquired my sculptures. It was the most ritzy place I had ever been in. One wall of the apartment seemed to be entirely glass, with a breathtaking view of the Alps. There were Lichtenstein panels round the bathroom, a flock of Lalanne sheep on the carpet and the set of my sculptures. Giovanni Agnelli was at the party and wanted to stay in the penthouse, but Gunther had said that the Joneses were there. Agnelli, thinking that he meant my sculptures, said "don't worry, I won't touch them!" Prominent in the apartment was a large, bullet-proof glass panel with one side splintered in several places. Gunther used to stand behind the glass and invite close friends to shoot him. Their names were inscribed on a plaque next to the glass.
What is an amazing memory you shared together?
AJ: Walking in St Moritz at night in the snow covered woods, lit by fairy lights, arm in arm with a statuesque Bardot look-a-like in Gunther's very own Embarkation for Cythera.
Painted fibreglass, resin, mixed media and tailor made accessories
Hamburg, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Gunter Sachs - Retrospektive, 2003, n.p., illustrated in colour
Leipzig, Museum der Bildenden Künste, Gunter Sachs, 2008, p. 74, illustrated in colour
Moscow, Museum Tsaritsyno, Gunter Sachs, 2009, n.p., illustrated in colour
78 by 96 by 57cm. 30 3/4 by37 3/4 by 22 1/2 in.
Marco Livingstone, Pop Art: A Continuing History, New York 1990, p. 174, no. 247, illustration of another example in colour
Nicola Hodges & Natasha Robertson, (Eds.), Allen Jones, London 1993, p. 30, illustration of another example in colour
Jackie Heuman, Material Matters: The Conservation of Modern Sculpture, London 1999, pp. 72-81, illustration of another example
Andrew Lambirth, Allen Jones: Works, London 2005, p. 11 and p. 25, illustration of another example in colour
Gunter Sachs, Mein Leben, Munich 2005, p. 385, illustrated in colour
Acquired in 1969