The Pop artist, 78, on his daily routine, sources of inspiration, and overcoming artist's block.
Allen Jones has been a Royal Academician since 1986. Born in Southampton in 1937, he studied with David Hockney and RB Kitaj at the Royal College and rose to fame as part of the Pop movement. His sexually charged work embraces popular culture, and is often satirical. He was the subject of a one man show at the Royal Academy in 2014 and a new exhibition of his Maîtresse cycle has just opened at Michael Werner Gallery, London
I get up at 8am. I don’t start work straightaway: as I get older I notice it takes me a little time to get going. I listen to a news programme; I do some stretch exercises for 20-30 minutes, and two or three times a week I like to go to the gym and do a bit of circuit training, just to keep everything supple. By the time I’ve dealt with my mail, it’s 11am before I’m in the studio.
I make my work on the top floor of a loft apartment in Smithfield, London. It was designed by the architect Piers Gough. I moved in about 35 years ago and I live with my wife [design consultant Deirdre Morrow] on one floor – my daughters are grown up and left home long ago – and the studio is above. It’s a real luxury. One of the great advantages is that often my most fertile moments are when I’m notionally off duty, so if something starts nagging at my mind in the evening I can just wander upstairs to the studio.
I work almost every day. We have a place out of town and I have a studio there, too. The nice thing about that is since I work in oil paint, by the time I return, the work I had been making is dry enough to work on again. I’m able to work on more than one piece at once, I don’t find it confusing or distracting. I tend to work on one thing until I know it’s going to make it as a picture, then it’s mainly straightforward labour to finish it. It takes me typically about three months to finish something.
It’s important to have a routine, otherwise the distractions are endless. And you’ve got to make the time to do your work. I realised early in my career that I need four or five hours of quality time to be able to make any progress.
My studio is open-plan. The radiators are down the middle of the room rather than being on the wall, because I wanted to keep the space flexible – sometimes I’m making very large works. The room has lots of daylight and it overlooks a square. Even though we’re right in the middle of the city it’s very tranquil.
I like to keep my studio tidy. It’s partly my upbringing – I was asthmatic as a child and it was helpful to have a clean, dust-free environment. I’m not manic about this, and there are moments of frantic activity where stuff goes all over the place, but I do like to know where things are.
While I’m working I listen to Radio 3, turned low, so it’s just background noise. I notice that when I’m concentrating I’m not even aware of the music, I tune it out, but I think it has some therapeutic use.
I find breaking for food necessary. I’m very lightly built and I need a little, often. For many years I would go around the corner to a place near Smithfield market, to have a one course lunch. But after a while it was getting like the sitcom Cheers: a hangout and everyone knew me. Once I began spending an hour or more in there it had to stop.
On my studio walls are pieces of my own work, rather than anything by others, although I do have an old poster of Brigitte Bardot on a Harley Davidson. God knows when I bought it. The studio is also littered with maquettes and objects which are part of my working process.
I know when a piece is finished because if I announce to my wife a picture is finished, I invariably have to do another two days work on it! Sometimes if you make a really bold move in a painting, it’s so satisfying that you think it’s finished, but then very quickly you get over that thrill. The next day you realise it still needs more work – for good or ill!
I feed my inspiration either in my library or by going out. I like to go to places where people are putting on a style in some way. We have bouts of going to the opera and we often go to Sadler’s Wells, because my wife is a real enthusiast of contemporary dance. I just like seeing life going on around me.
I deal with artists block by switching medium. Because I make sculptures and prints as well as paintings, if one of them seems to have come to the end of some strand then something else is on the boil in another medium. Otherwise, there’s always tidying up, which I think it’s quite common among artists. But often it will mean I’ll discover old sketches which will spark an idea. These are both good strategies for a block, but mercifully it doesn’t happen very often.
I carry a notebook rather than a sketchbook. I tend to draw on large sheets of paper instead, which end up looking like storyboards. If I’m out at a restaurant though and something takes my eye, then I’ll draw on the nearest bit of paper I can find. My studio drawers are full of scraps old theatre programmes and bits of other people’s address books.
I don’t use assistants. I’ve never worked out how to. There are moments I wish I had one, usually for the business of cleaning brushes! But I do envy friends who have systems where other people can fill things in. When I’m making sculptures I depend on other people of course, because that’s an industrial process.
I finish work at 7.30pm. Two or three nights a week we just turn on the TV, but the rest of the time I like to be out and about.
I go to bed late, around 1am. I’m a light sleeper. I’ve worked out that if I get six hours’ sleep that’s pretty good. We like to read a little: for my wife it’s a way of winding down and tuning out from the day, but for me it’s different. I like to read things that I can hold in the back of my mind as a source for something. At the moment I’m reading The Tales of Hoffmann.