THE PLAYROOM – PRINTS BY ALLEN JONES, R.B. KITAJ AND JOE TILSON
A Curated Print Exhibition From Marlborough Fine Art, London
In 1970 Allen Jones exhibited for the first time a group of three fibreglass sculptures: Hatstand, Table and Chair depicted young attractive women in the role of furniture. Almost immediately, the works attracted criticism from some of the public and the press, meeting strong protests from feminists.
As often happens with highly criticised art works, Jones’ sculptures became not only notorious, but also iconic, so that the three pieces made their way into collective imagery, inspiring the film director Stanley Kubrick for a scene of his cult movie A Clockwork Orange (1971).
The three sculptures by Jones represented a highlight within the artist’s work drawing on the most disparate sources of ‘low’ culture: girlie and fetish magazines, film posters, advertisements, billboards, pin-up calendars, newspapers, cartoon strips, blue movies, erotic ephemera, soft-porn novels, mail-order catalogues, material often promoting a highly idealised image of the female body through anatomical distortions and exaggerations.
This imagery and research on the female figure served as a common base for a group of artist and friends that had entered the Royal College in 1959. Aiming to revitalize post-war representational art otherwise swept away by Abstract Expressionism, they were soon to be associated with the British Pop Art movement. Amongst these students were the American R.B. Kitaj, slightly older than Allen Jones, Derek Boshier, Peter Phillips and David Hockney – Joe Tilson had been at the college just a few years earlier.
In different ways and following their own interests, these artists have explored the theme of the female figure as filtered by popular culture, mixing it with examples drawn from other sources, such as art history.
Kitaj, for instance, used more or less explicit images as the main source for some of his prints. Following a common practice for Kitaj (and for the other artists of the group too), some of the imagery he later employed drew on his earlier works, in an interesting game of self-quotation. For instance, in The Red Dancer of Moscow, Kitaj has reused the central figure from Cutie, and the female head from another print, Orgasm which also appears in Addled Art. Some other prints refer directly to the art works of others: as an example, the lithograph Barcelonetta plays with the theme of the prostitute in art, paying homage to Toulouse-Lautrec.
A similar approach to low-culture images can be detected in Joe Tilson’s works from the series Pages, three-dimensional wooden grids that mimicked the layout of radical newspapers and magazines of the period. Page 19, He, She, & It represent the newspapers International Times, featuring screenprints of articles and images of women printed on soft pillow-like fabric, sewn by Tilson’s wife Morton.
The selection of etchings by David Hockney presented in this catalogue slightly moves away from referencing media culture, investigating the role of the female figure in popular fairy tales. The etchings from Illustrations for Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm illustrate stories that deal with female characters, being the witch, the princess and the fairy all different aspects of the same feminine archetype.
The online show ends with a group of works by Jones from the 2000s, depicting the artist’s unmistakable eroticism.