Mild Sauce: Pop in Effigy – A Wife and Two Dollies

allen jones, art, feminism, fetishism, mild sauce, norman parkinson, Vogue

There are times when Allen Jones makes a highly plausible bid to be taken for a fetishist. His paintings of shoes with impossibly high heels are in the realm of phantasy and can only be worn by the phantom of sex appeal that slips them on in the mind’s eye, but they are more likely to be rhinoceros horn to rouse and sustain. Even his paintings of legs, conspicuously shape-conscious though they are, could have been devised to celebrate the stockings. But the true fetishist places his faith on inanimate objects or parts of the body as far away as possible from the sexual zones, and although Jones rarely paints the whole figure, his euphoric images of the cleavage and the crotch are evidence enough that he is far from being at the mercy of symbolic displacements. Until recently, he could probably be described as an aficionado of the choice view, but suddenly all the evocative fragments have come together in three life-size effigies of girls which look so breathtakingly real that when I first saw them  in the artist’s flat I felt that I shouldn’t have entered the room without knocking.

They are made for instant recognition and maximum confrontation. They turn into works of art by rapid but clear-cut stages. Twice over, they are not what they seem. At first they are blindingly girls. Then they are brilliant imitations of girls, cool and arrogant but incapable of lifting a finger against close and impertinent inspection. Finally, inpection makes it clear that their proportions are not human. They are not imitations. They bring to a kind of perfection a convention that has arisen on art’s difficult road back to a humanist figuration.

They present a strong case for the artist as director. Everyone who knows Allen Jones’s paintings will agree that the effigies disclose his formal preoccupations at every turn: but he has not actually made them. It all started on one of his trips to the States, when someone mentioned that there were people in London who were making fabulous life-size dolls. Back in London, he went to see one of these dolls, a likeness of Carroll Baker that had been commissioned by a film director. Only the head had been specially modelled; the body was that of a conventional shop window dummy. The visit brought up the name of Dik Beech, a commercial sculptor who works as a freelance in close association with a company named Gems Wax Models, which makes the moulds and casts for Madame Tussaud`s. Beech brought great professionalism and the neutrality of a craftsman to the task of turning Jones’s drawings and specitications into three-dimensional figures. They were then cast in fibreglass by Gems Wax Models, and sprayed and rubbed down and sprayed again to give them an impeccably smooth, flesh-tinted finish. At this point they were taken over by Lucina della Rocca and entirely repainted by hand. She works for Tussaud’s, and she brought the surfaces of the casts to life with imperceptible nuances of tone. They were now looking the picture of decadent health. The eyes too are painted, and the faces have been given a bold but not exaggerated make·up. Other experts were called in. The leather accessories, including the strap-work on the standing figure, were made by John Sutcliffe of Atomage. The Lurex pants of the girl on her hands and knees were made by Zandra Rhodes and required three fittings. The wigs are by Beyond the Fringe. The gloves, bought at Weiss of Shaftesbury Avenue, are the only accessories that didn’t have to be specially designed.

The figure on hands and knees gazing into a mirror has been designed so that the back of her head and her rear are exactly the same height, to support the clear glass panel which has been made and fixed by Design Animations. It turns her into an anthropomorphic table. Her pose perhaps suggests an undignified obedience, but she can he freed from her glass plate to occupy an easy chair; her arms then stretch out in a striking “hands-off” gesture calculated to send one to the opposite side of the room. It’s indicative of the artist’s purely visual interest in the gear that he was not aware that the strap running from the standing girl’s collar to her G-string would be at the back on a real girl, to compel her to stand up straight: it seems to confirm one’s impression that the girls come from a strip-joint not of this world.

Allen Jones at home, above: his wife and two dollies, opposite. His three life-size effigies, each in an edition of six, will be on show in New York from January 6 at Richard Feigen; in Cologne from mid-January at Gallery Rudolph Zwirner; in London from January 23 at Tooth’s, 31 Bruton St, WC1.

Gustav Adolf Mossa: Naughty but Nice

art, art nouveau, gustav adolf mossa

I don’t often do art-related posts, but I realised I had never shared my passion for the work of Gustav Adolf Mossa with you all. A few years ago I was on holiday in Nice and took a trip to the Musée des Beaux-Arts, which I would highly recommend if you are ever visiting.

I was enjoying myself, I usually do, but had just been sweetened to death by a roomful of sickly, twee watercolours by someone I can’t remember (why on earth would I?). I swiftly turned a corner, and entered a new room. Everything stopped still. My thought process was something like “these are very beautiful … these are very intricate … I’m going to look closer … oh my word, these are a bit dark … oh wow, these are utterly terrifyingly twisted and even more beautiful for it”. I had entered the world of Gustav Adolf Mossa.

Born in 1883 in Nice, Mossa was the son of Alexis Mossa – an accomplished artist in his own right, and trained at l’École des Arts Décoratifs de Nice. Mossa was inspired by the Symbolist movement, and clearly by the ongoing Art Nouveau style of the time. Until he abandoned his distinctive symbolist style in 1911, in favour of more primitive Flemish-style works, he created some of the most disturbing and intricate paintings I have ever seen.

There’s something rather deliciously twisted about them, possibly the reason he hid them from public view until his death in 1971. They invite study and, as a woman, questions about their subject matter. Are the women in his works femme fatales? Are they figures of evil or is Mossa trying to show their potential strength in his imposing, vampish and often gory depictions. I see them as the work of someone who is captivated, and possibly a little terrified, of them, rather than that of a misogynist (which is something of which he has often been accused).

I’m also not averse to contemplating the fact that many women actually are as dark and demonic as some men portray them. I think we all have it within us, but our fear of our dark side makes us instinctively defensive against male depictions of women in this way. If Mossa had been a woman, would we look upon his work more favourably?

Away from that, they are simply inspirational in their colour, detail and shapes. Like nothing I’ve ever seen before, almost cartoon-like in comparison to many artists of the Belle Epoque but greater in detail than any I’ve seen before or since. I’m not sure I actually want to inhabit the paintings in terms of the situations, but if life could be as beautiful, rich and soulful as a Mossa painting, then I’d be very happy.

Bite Me

art, botticelli, celia birtwell, florence, italy, outfit posts
Reflection perfection. Sunset over the Arno

I return from Florence with the tiresome evidence of my having provided a gourmet meal for the mosquitoes who reside therein. But I will save you the gory, bumpy details. I had a wonderful time with M in possibly the most beautiful city in the world (I say that as though I’ve seen all the others, but I’m just making a sweeping generalisation as ever…) and had a wonderful birthday.

We gorged ourselves on art and spiritual atmosphere more than pasta (although I managed to get a bowl of my beloved gnocchi on the last night, upon realising this mammoth error) at the Uffizi, Santa Croce and several other smaller places besides.

It’s a weird thing for me, as a hugely lapsed Catholic*, to actively want to spend time wandering around monuments to something I’ve obviously rejected as a way of life. But I always loved the bells and the smells and grew up in a family who actively sought out Latin Masses. (There’s a photo of my Grandmother meeting with the current Pope. Serious stuff people!) The atmosphere is intoxicating at times, inspirational and spiritual even if you have vastly differing ideas to those who created and decorated them.

*I sometimes think that lapsed Catholicism is a religion in itself…


[Baptistery Doors]

The Uffizi gave me the chance to indulge my (yes, I know, hugely mainstream. So sue me.) passion for Botticelli. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and even I can see that overexposure can render something like The Birth of Venus rather tedious, but there is something about that level of perfection which makes me catch my breath and my eyes well up. Not physical perfection, whatever on earth that may be, or literal perfection like, say, Ingres, but an attempt to capture the beauty of nature in the most perfect way he could. After rooms and rooms of devotional religious scenes, the more allegorical scenes of Botticelli’s best works are rendered even more extraordinary.

[I also enjoyed noting the clear inspiration Celia Birtwell took from those paintings. They look as though they’ve been dressed by Quorum.]

I maintain a healthy love for those who are brave enough to outline their subjects. I had regular confrontations with my art teacher in relation to this, he felt I should smudge every line to reflect reality. And then wanted me to write an enthusiastic essay on the merits of Picasso. Weird.

Someone else who liked to outline his subjects was De Chirico, who was the star attraction of an exhibition at the Strozzi. It was pretty incredible to see so many incredible surrealist masterpieces contained within a Florentine Palazzo, and it’s always nice to pick up a few new favourite artists along the way.

I know everyone takes the same photo, but I care not.

What with the views from the Piazzale Michelangelo, the Ponte Vecchio, the gelati, the endless beautiful streets of beautiful buildings and, finally, a sweltering train journey through the heavenly countryside of Tuscany, I have had an almost overwhelmingly lovely time.

Doctor Who viewers will know exactly why I find statues even more deliciously creepy than ever.
This one was so unbelievably beautiful; that sculpted fall of fabric down the stairs…

[Santa Croce]

I note, with some resignation, that the good people of Florence do not tend to dress for dinner. Tourists are pretty useless for this too, obviously. So I took it upon myself to fly the flag for vintage for my birthday dinner at Zàzà (thanks to the gorgeous Laurakitty for the recommendation). A Polly Peck moss crepe empire line early-mini which nobody wanted when I listed it on eBay last year, I subsequently tried it on and realised it was a perfect fit, and my beloved green silk DeLiso Debs. Good rule of thumb: If you’re feeling a bit gloomy about ageing another year, wear something which is 70-odd years old. My dress was also about 45 years old, so I was doing a good job of being the youngest thing about……

Mmmmm. Prosecco. Hic!

Thank you all for your good wishes for my holiday and for my birthday. Back to work now, and I feel even luckier than ever that my work is something which I actually enjoy! I also note that this is my 400th post, which surely deserves another bottle of Prosecco? Si?