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“Jones does for the leg what Stubbs did for the horse” John McEwan (art critic)
The artist and the creative process
We will never know what it takes to be a creative artist.
But it does not matter.
We can of course dwell into it, knowing that there is no “truth”.
While engaging in this, we must be aware of the fact that such an exercise may be an attempt to escape from the visual and sensual stimulus created by the work of art and hide behind cognitive constructs that nullify the excperience.
Of course the whole process may lead to the opposite direction. The enquiring mind may use the process as a fertilising agent, thus creating even more works of art as it ponders over these questions.
One avenue that may be explored is obsession. Obsession may take various paths of development, leading to scopophilia, even fetishism.
In another post I wrote some time ago on sexual fetishism I quoted Sigmund Freud saying:
“(Fetishism) … remains a token of triumph over the threat of castration and a protection against it. It also saves the fetishist from becoming a homosexual, by endowing women with the characteristic which makes them tolerable as sexual objects.”
The viewer and art
The same way an obsession, scopophilia or even fetishism may be driving the artist in the creative process, it may also drive the viewer of art. If, for example, I am obsessed by fishing boats, it would not be surprising if I like paintings featuring fishing boats.
But are female legs equivalents to fishing boats?
In the sexual fetishism post I also quoted Robert Stoller:
“A sexually exciting fetish, we know, may be an inanimate object, a living but not human object, a part of a human body (in rare cases even of one’s own), an attribute of a human (this is a bit less sure, since we cannot hold an attribute in hand), or even a whole human not perceived as himself or herself but rather as an abstraction, such as a representative of a group rather than a person in his or her ownright (“all women are bitches”; “all men are pigs”).”
Another type of the viewer’s obsession could be “scopophilia”, which means deriving pleasure from looking, or love of watching, but also refers to the erotic pleasure derived from gazing at images of the body. Voyeurism is a synonym for scopophilia. Freud associated scopophilia with the anal stage of development.Does this imply that one who derives pleasure from looking is stuck at the anal stage? Or it signifies the concurrent existence of multiple erogenous zones, one of them being the anus?
Now I am totally confused. I started by talking about the pleasure of looking at legs and all of a sudden I am caught between multiple concurrent erogenous zones. A few steps away, the Rat Man (Freud’s famous case) repeats a sentence monotonously: “I have a burning and tormenting curiosity to see the female body”
‘The artist cannot worry about how someone might misconstrue the work’ Allen Jones
A major Allen Jones’ retrospective opened in November 2014 in London’s Royal Academy of Arts.
Jones created many works with female legs.
I do not claim that Jones is a fetishist or a voyeur or a scopophile, although he has been called many names over the years. As a matter of fact I could not possibly know it unless I were his psychoanalyst. But even if I were his psychoanalyst I could not say anything about it, because of the analyst – patient protocol of confidentiality.
If the artist remains terra incognita, what about me, as the viewer? Although I tremble at the thought of returning tot he anal stage, or even worse, staying there, I will venture to make some comments on Jones’ pictures.
A critic of the Royal Acedemy retrospective, found that there is no depth in Jones’ work. He gave the show 2 out of 5.
This triggered a question in my mind, which I want to share with you:
“Do legs have depth?”
“What do we mean by depth? Is it equivalent to the three dimensions? Or is it more than that?”
These may sound like simple questions, but trying to answer them may lead us to multiple discoveries. Let’s start.
One of the most striking features of Jones’ work is their simplicity. However, being simple is not equivalent to being trivial.
Looking at the paintings I cannot but assert that Jones likes female legs. Linking does not necessary lead to obsessions, but it is loud and clear. The artist likes painting legs over and over again.
The third observation I want to make has to do with the context of a painting. As you can see in the samples of Jones’s work I have assembled in this post, Jones creates in two types of context.
The first is what I call “isolation”. Legs are shown as if they exist on their own. Its just legs, and nothing else.
This “isolation” context is paired with the second type of context, which I call “relational”.
In a “relational” context legs do not exist on their own, but in relation to something else.
Hands are coming out of nowhere, reaching for the legs.
A woman appears to be cut in two, she almost chasing her own legs.
Female legs become entangled with male legs.
A female body is portayed with an horizontal level surface cutiing it in two, and an almost vertical red and black curtain hiding half of it.
The “relational” context becomes stronger and stronger as we look at the pictures. Legs are no longer alone. They belong to a woman and the woman is somehow somewhere with a man.
“With” has a multitude of meanings and representations.
Another feature of the works is color. The artist plays with colors in many ways.
The stocking of one leg has a different color compared to the other.
Or the picture is monochromatic. As in black feat and red feat.
And in closing, I come to the issue of depth. When a knife becomes a female body, I would call this an exercise in three dimensions. When the legs of three females stick out of a wall, I would call this depth.
So all in all, the pictures by Allen Jones have depth, and much more. Provided that one can see them for what they are and no for what they should be.