‘The work of the second half of the 1960s and the early 1970s, including the furniture pieces, was a kind of learning process, of how to use the grammar from commercial imagery that dealt with the figure in an obsessive way, outside the umbrella of fine art. There was something very exciting and fresh about that and it was a way of re-presenting the figure.’ 1.
The title of this painting, ‘Three in One’, refers to a style of underwear – combining bra, girdle and pants – advertised in the American mail order catalogue Frederick’s of Hollywood. The related screenprint, also made in 1971, (collection Tate Gallery, London), retains more details from the original advert – including the catalogue reference, price () and the underwear itself. In the 1960s, the products on offer in the Frederick’s catalogues were pictured using stylised line drawings. Jones was fascinated by the distorted and exaggerated female bodies found in these illustrations, their super-long legs and pneumatic breasts, which he appreciated as a unique aesthetic style.
Here, Jones has reduced the original image, in order to focus purely on the exposed areas of flesh and the mouth. Jones’s use of the commercial artist’s technique of spray painting, adds to the impression that the body of the woman is as commodified as the product she is selling and his appropriation of popular imagery, combined with a flat graphic technique and meticulous attention to detail and surface make this a classic example of British Pop painting.
In this context underwear, like art, is shown to be a means to perfect and abstract the body. It is used less to protect and cover, than to frame and present specific eroticised areas, just as a painter might frame and present a figure. Before the widespread availability of plastic surgery, underwear was marketed to women as a way to physically improve the body, to flatten their shape, or add curves, sculpting themselves into an ideal shape. The body is thus depersonalised, and, just as in art, the image is more important than the physical reality.
Jones explains his repeated depictions of the female body, as the vehicle with which to explore various existing languages - of painting, clothing and abstraction. His extensive use of nudity and erotic imagery is both knowingly provocative and at the same time ambiguous. He identifies the female body as an object of fantasy and projection, his figures are not real women, they are symbols:
‘My exaggeration of the female form is for a good reason. The figures of course are not real people, but painted signs and a sign should be clear. My paintings are a manipulation of these signs to arouse various emotions. I am interested in creating a totemic presence. Apart from the female symbols of large breasts, the figures are rather masculine. Sturdy limbs and aggressiveness of posture are usually associated with the male figure in art history. ‘ 2
Two years earlier, in 1969, Jones had made the iconic and infamous group of sculptures Hat Stand, Chair and Table. At the end of the 1960s, he also began using film making and photography to extend his painting practise. His self-authored books Figures, 1969 and Projects, 1971, served as visual essays, in which Jones reproduced his source materials (film posters, fetish magazines, adverts and catalogues) alongside images of his own work.
1. Allen Jones quoted in Andrew Lambirth, Allen Jones: Works, Royal Academy of Arts, 2005, p61
2. Charles Jencks, Victor Arwas, Bryan Robertson, Allen Jones, Academy Editions, Ernst and Sohn, 1993, p39