Allen Jones and Piers Gough: How we met

'We danced in the school library, cooked up a vast amount of food and played croquet on the lawn'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Piers Gough, 68

Since co-forming architecture supergroup CZWG in 1975, Gough (right in picture) has led award-winning developments across the UK. His landmark buildings include the Fulham Island Tutti Fruiti project, China Wharf in Bermondsey and the Maggie's cancer-care centre in Nottingham. He lives in London

I was aware of Allen in the 1960s, because he was already one of the great Pop artists of London, and as an architectural student, I was looking towards Pop art for inspiration; I wanted to use colour and figurative elements within architecture that were "Pop" in nature. I was at architecture school with the two people who brought us together: [the abstract and figurative artist] Patrick Heron's daughter, who he knew, and Janet Street-Porter. Both of them lived near Allen, in Chelsea, and they introduced me.

I invited him along to the most memorable party I've ever thrown. At the time, my father was a schoolmaster in Hertfordshire and during the summer holidays I invited Allen to the school, along with 200 people. We danced in the library, cooked up a vast amount of food and played croquet on the lawn.

When Allen and 11 other artists bought a big warehouse on Charterhouse Square in London, he took two floors and asked me to design them; it was a great commission and we saw a lot of one another. I managed to sneak in some references to his work into the interiors, including a whiplash spiral staircase – the handrail became a multi-thonged whip which wrapped itself around a column.

By that time he was with his new wife Deirdre, and began hosting extremely hospitable and glamorous dinner parties. Each couple would get the most beautiful, hand-drawn watercolour menus; it's actually one of my treasured items.

Allen is also one of the greatest storytellers. One time he told me how he invited some Americans who collected his work to dinner. They turned up head to toe in fetish wear – with proper rubber masks. Allen was totally in shock.

All artists are naughty – just look at Jake and Dinos Chapman's work. And some of Allen's work is stupendously provocative, too: it relates to the fetishisation of females. He loves the shock; he twinkles from it. He so obviously isn't misogynistic or sexist in his relationships, but it's an expression of latent desires and feelings that most people hide. Surely art is about expressing things that are unacceptable, but nevertheless true.

Allen Jones, 77

A Royal Academician, Jones was one of the most controversial artists to have emerged from the Pop art scene of the 1960s, best known for his sexualised, life-sized statues of women; his 1969 work 'Table' is regarded as one of the most notorious sculptures of the period. He lives in Oxfordshire

We met through Janet Street-Porter, who was a student with Piers at the Architectural Association while she was living a few doors down from me, in Chelsea.

One of my strong first memories of Piers was being invited to a party at his father's prep school in Hertfordshire, something totally alien to my own background. It took place in the school holidays and his guests, mainly student friends of Piers, had the run of the place. My abiding image of Piers was him being part of a group of hardy souls who stripped down and jumped into the school pool and, such was his size, soaking all the bystanders from the splash. Afterwards we both played croquet on the lawn – I'd never played before, but it was hardly a gentlemanly game: Piers was so competitive he fired my ball off into the undergrowth.

The friendship blossomed and after Piers had been over to my house a few times, he had a great idea to add a studio on the top floor of my Victorian semi. Divorce took care of that.

Between all this, Piers had a rather life-changing accident: he'd been decorating the ceiling in his kitchen when he fell heavily and broke his back. I remember going out regularly to see him at the spinal unit, Piers lying in this strange contraption of a bed, encased in a taught leather sheet, immovable for three months; I thought he wouldn't walk again. But he was never lost for words, and the main memory I have of that time was his indomitable spirit: there's no doubt that his competitive streak helped him overcome it. Now he just carries a stick to walk.

Some years after Piers formed CZWG, I took on an old hat factory in Smithfield with a group of fellow artists. I took two floors and asked Piers to design the space. He came up with a great way to induce light into the room, giving the feeling of being outdoors. Over the years we've completed several projects together, which have brought us closer; including one for my studio in Oxfordshire.

We remain good friends and have both become members of the Royal Academy, which is a great place to catch up. He is assertive and fearless in a way large men can be; and very outspoken and quick with it.

I don't agree with his sentiment that he is a B-movie architect, though. The people who are historically the most influential aren't necessarily those with the biggest incomes. He is unique in his generation in as much as he was a major exponent of post-modernism; he's made some pretty wild, asymmetrical buildings and he uses colour quite strongly and inventively; when you drive past a Piers Gough building – like the Tutti Fruiti one with the blue tiles on the south side of the river – it's an event. 1

The Royal Academy, London W1, is hosting an Allen Jones retrospective until 25 January. 'Touch: Figure Drawings by Allen Jones 1958-2010' is at Thomas Gibson Fine Art, London SW1, until 9 December

Comments