One of Allen Jones’s candid sayings, is that he wanted to kick over the traces of what was considered acceptable in art — a mindset many art students and graduates share, as they try to break new grounds. The Royal Academician, one of Andy Warhol’s contemporaries who is most well known for his provocative ready-mades, did not make it in the Pop Art scene simply by following the rules. He was expelled from the Royal College of Art in 1960, at the end of only his first year, and rebelliously changed a commissioned poster to his own desire after having received his cheque for the project, and the paint still being wet. Our friends at the newly founded magazine King Kong spoke with the art legend about one of his 70’s film projects, Maitresse, which you can discover at the Michael Werner gallery in Mayfair until the 6th of May. Today, we share an exclusive excerpt of the feature, which you can read full length in the mag. Check out their Facebook to see where you can get your hands on a copy!
IN 1975 I WAS ASKED TO DESIGN A POSTER FOR THE AMERICAN DISTRIBUTOR OF A FRENCH FILM CALLED MAÎTRESSE. THE DIRECTOR WAS BARBET SCHROEDER AND THE STARS WERE GERARD DÉPARDIEU AND BULLE OGIER WITH COSTUMES BY KARL LAGERFELD. THESE NAMES SUGGESTED QUALITY AND I AGREED TO FLY TO PARIS FOR A PRIVATE VIEWING.
The film subsequently obtained limited release in the UK because of its explicit sexual scenes. The beautifully filmed story charted the dual existence of an attractive and stylish blonde whose other self was a raven-haired dominatrix seductively clothed by Lagerfeld, who operated a house of pain for well-heeled members of the community. Sitting alone in the tiny theatre I was, in turn enthralled and scared to death by the unfolding action. Blonde Bulle Ogier could transform herself into a raven-haired temptress in a Jekyll and Hyde world of her own design.
With hindsight there were other reasons for my attraction to such a heroine, unconscious at the time. A few years before, Vidal Sassoon had created what became an iconic hairstyle typified by the image of Mary Quant and Hollywood legend Louise Brooks. We purchased such a wig which so transformed my wife that she went unrecognised by some of our closest friends at a party. At the time of the poster commission I was about to part from my blonde wife of fourteen years and fall in love with a vivacious brunette whose echoes of Louise Brooks was not unlike the movie temptress Maîtresse.
I executed an oil painting larger than the format required for the poster so that the detail would remain sharp in reproduction. On seeing the image of a dark haired dominatrix with a bullwhip the distributor felt that it would be too stormy for use in newspaper advertising – I asked him if he had seen the movie?! I was loath to water down my image, indignant that I should compromise my art, but relented when my wife pointed out that it was a poster commission with commercial imperatives of its own. The oil paint was still wet so I changed the hair to blonde and the bullwhip was exchanged for a bunch of keys. A long distance phone call assured me that they liked the changed image they received as a photo transparency. When I had received the cheque a few days later, the paint being still wet, I returned it to my original statement.
Because the picture had been conceived as an illustration I never considered including it in any of my exhibitions, but in recent years for my own self-edification I expanded on the idea. What would the image look like if she were behind the curtain? What if she bent down to pick up the fallen letters? What if she had a rest? I realised the series was complete when the body of the Maîtresse became the gap between the curtains and the paint took over.
Words by Allen Jones RA