An Interview with Allen Jones
I caught up with artist Allen Jones just before he set off on holiday to Marrakesh to talk about the chaise longue that is his ‘wish’. Designer Lola Lely is working on the project with him, to create a recliner that is in the form of an androgynous figure.
It was an idea that Jones came up with at least 10 years ago, and of which a drawing and a card model were sitting on his shelves. ‘I didn’t have the facilities to pursue it,’ Jones said. ‘I could perhaps have made it in metal but that seemed a very unfriendly material to sit on’. So when Terence Conran, who is an old friend, asked Jones to offer an idea for the Wish List project, he almost immediately thought of his recliner.
Jones of course has form with chairs, since ‘Chair’ in the shape of a contorted near-naked woman supporting a seat, was one of the three infamous fibreglass pieces that he made in 1969 (the others were ‘Hatstand’ and ‘Table’) and which in turn helped to make his reputation. But those were artworks whereas this is very definitely a piece of furniture. Jones has designed furniture before, notably for Zev Aram to celebrate an anniversary, but this project could not be more personal. Lely and the team at Benchmark will measure him up to ensure that the recliner fits him like a glove.
Jones’ concept is that the recliner should be in the form of an androgynous figure, outlined on the surface, which can alter its gender according to the insertion or removal of a wooden peg. A head, possibly acting as a headrest, will top the creation. The outline of the body (‘a very simple form’) will be created on the surface in a contrasting veneer. When the chaise is unoccupied but ‘booked’ for use, it will assume a male form thanks to the insertion of the ‘modest-sized’ dowel into the drainage hole. But when Jones occupies it, he will, he says, ‘be coupling with a female form’. He finds it ‘a funny idea to ascribe a gender to a seat, as in English, unlike French, we don’t usually have a gender identification for an object’.
There is also an allusion to Marino Marini’s sculpture, Angel of the Citadel, which stands facing the Grand Canal in front of the Guggenheim Museum in Venice. Peggy Guggenheim described it as follows in her memoir, ‘It was a statue of a horse and rider, the latter with his arms spread out in ecstasy, and to emphasize this, Marino added a phallus in full erection. But when he had it cast in bronze for me he had the phallus made separately, so that it could be screwed in and out at leisure.’ Jones liked the story (perhaps apocryphal) that Guggenheim reinserted the phallus every time that she knew that a boatload of nuns would be going past.
Collaboration is not unusual for Jones, since he has typically worked with others in order to realise his sculptures. But in this case he was working with somebody who had been chosen for him. He is happy with these different circumstances. ‘Lola comes highly recommended,’ he said. ‘If they think it’s a great idea, that is good enough for me,’ adding, ‘I am used to dealing with lusty and crusty men from the steel trade. It a great pleasure to work with somebody from the opposite sex.’
Jones is aware of the areas of the project that could be encountered, particularly in the creation of the curved surface, and intends to be fully involved in the making at Benchmark. ‘It’s the doing of it that makes it concrete,’ he said.
Many of the ideas behind the use of American hardwoods are new to Jones. ‘I didn’t know all the background to do with making things efficiently,’ he said. But it is obviously a challenge he is relishing, despite having a very busy year, with a retrospective planned at the Royal Academy in November. The chaise longue is unlikely to be included. ‘That is a retrospective of my art, not of furniture,’ he said.