Who Is Grace Jones? Androgyny in Art

who is grace jones


During her time in the limelight, Grace Jones has held a variety of roles, including singer, composer, supermodel, actor, androgynous fashion icon, and music producer. But it wasn’t until she met Andy Warhol and Keith Haring that an idea of her as a muse began to take shape. She befriended three of New York’s best-known artists in 1984: Warhol, Haring, and Robert Mapplethorpe. She spent over fifteen hours in Mapplethorpe’s studio before coming out decorated in the distinctive patterns made by Haring.

Grace Jones: Birth of an Icon

jean paul goude grace jones blue black brown 1981
Blue Black in Black on Brown by Jean-Paul Goude, 1981, via Jean-Paul Goude

During the 1980s, artists became celebrities. Andy Warhol was of course the best at it. He frequented the famous New York club called Studio 54, along with celebrities like Edie Sedgwick, Mick Jagger, Madonna, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Grace Jones, the famed disco diva, joined Warhol’s group here. She achieved the fame that Warhol craved and became one of his closest confidantes.

Jones had already become a unique symbol of style, music, and elegance by the 1980s. When she was just sixteen years old, in 1966, a scout saw her and signed her to the prestigious New York modeling firm Wilhelmina. She settled in Paris in the 1970s and collaborated with renowned fashion experts like Guy Bourdin, Yves Saint-Laurent, and Kenzo Takada. Jones’s face was even on the covers of Elle, Vogue, and Der Stern.

Her unique, androgynous, assertive look was well-received by the Parisian fashion world. But still, Jones’s gender-contradictory look in the 1980s shook the public. Her androgynous fashion style also influenced many.

keith grace jones vogue 1980s
Grace Jones for Vogue by Keith Hamshere, 1984, via Vogue

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Jones used her physical attributes as a model to defy gender and racial stereotypes. Jones tended to wear men’s attire in order to blur the lines between the sexes. She even said: I go feminine, I go masculine. I am both, actually. I think the male side is a bit stronger in me, and I have to tone it down sometimes. I’m not like a normal woman, that’s for sure. Jones also experimented with her persona on stage, using bizarre attire and vibrant makeup. She also performed dramatic dance routines, nearly nude.

Grace Jones, who was born in Jamaica, confronted racial and cultural preconceptions connected to the African diaspora in her performances throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Her performances are comparable to those of Josephine Baker in many aspects, whom Jones identified as an inspiration.

Jones was ridiculing the Western perceptions of Africa as a continent of barbarism and African women being seen as exotic items. She was purposefully creating a futuristic-primitivist aesthetic, as described by the art historian Alison Pearlman.

Jones and Haring: A Marriage of Art

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Grace Jones Diamond Jubilee concert at Buckingham Palace, 2012, via Zimbio

Grace Jones had just released her popular album Slave to the Rhythm and was at the height of her singing career in 1984. This also happened to be the year when she met Keith Haring. The singer asked Warhol to introduce her to his famous buddy. Haring decided to paint Jones’ body, while Mapplethorpe took pictures of this mesmerising project for an article in Interview Magazine. The magazine, which Warhol founded, included interviews with singers, musicians, actors, high-end artists, and icons of pop culture.

robert mappletrhorpe keith haring grace jones 1984
Grace Jones painted by Keith Haring by Robert Mapplethorpe, 1984, via Reddit

Upon entering the studio, Jones undressed, leaving only her underwear on, and let Haring apply white paint straight onto her skin. Haring adorned her full body with his characteristic symbols and complex drawings. The vivacious motifs complimented her tall figure and proportions flawlessly. Haring painted Jones from head to toe. Warhol was there to oversee everything. For the photographs, Jones wore David Spada’s custom-made sculptured jewelry. This iconic photoshoot for Warhol’s Interview Magazine served as the beginning of a unique partnership between Jones and Haring which would continue for many years. Grace Jones and Keith Haring’s famous day of body painting was merely the beginning of their partnership. He would paint her several times.

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Keith Haring Holding a Boom Box, the 1980s, via Retro Vintage Mod Style

When Haring moved to New York in the late 1970s, he attended the School of Visual Arts, but his influences came more from the graffiti artists he encountered in the city, as well as from cartoons and images from popular culture. He started to make works in subway stations. He initially began creating his personal white chalk sketches on the widely accessible flat black background in advertisement spots of the underground system. Haring was influenced by artists who were members of the alternative art scene of the East Village. He was openly gay and he visited gay nightclubs where Funk, Rap, New Wave, Disco, Hip Hop, Punk, and Dub flowed.

Haring aspired to make art available to everyone and felt that images might have the same meaning as words. He was drawn to the concept of primitivism in modern art. Artists before Haring saw primitive as an unadulterated way to express themselves, enabling them to transform subconscious thoughts, desires, and feelings into works of art. Hieroglyphs, in particular, piqued Haring’s curiosity when it came to native symbols. These symbols resonated with Haring’s desire to produce art that anybody could understand.

robert mappletrhorpe keith haring painting grace jones 1984
Keith Haring Painting Grace Jones by Robert Mapplethorpe, 1984, via Vintage News Daily

Haring was particularly influenced by Grace Jones’ vivacious performances because he saw an element he liked in her clothes, accessories, stage persona, and makeup. Their future collaborations were meant to be. The two gained notoriety after creating a stir in the world of art by interacting with legendary figures like Fela Kuti and other well-known personalities in the city’s nightlife. They formed an iconic creative partnership that serves as a reminder of the vibrant New York multicultural landscape of the 1980s.

grace jones body painted by keith haring new york 1985
Grace Jones body-painted by Keith Haring by Robert Mapplethorpe, 1985, via Artland Magazine

Keith Haring researched pictures of Maasai males with white patterns drawn on their bare bodies before beginning his own body painting process with the singer. After finding the inspiration he was looking for in his research, Haring applied his own interpretation of the tribal tattoos to Jones’s skin, merging the lines between old and contemporary. Jones also partnered with Haring because she had constantly utilized her androgynous body as a canvas for display. She positioned herself as the artist’s equal.

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Keith Haring Painting On Grace Jones, 1986, via Pinterest

From their collaborations, Jones emerged as a deity with a crown on her head. Her body was decorated with graffiti, reflecting the mythological appearance she intended to maintain. Jones was also liberated from the masculine/feminine dichotomy through Haring’s audacious designs, which echoed the androgynous persona Jones had developed during her career as a model.

grace jones im not perfect album 1986
Grace Jones’s I’m Not Perfect (But I’m Perfect for You), 1986, via Discogs

Jones and Haring worked together on the 1986 music video for her song I’m Not Perfect (But I’m Perfect for You). In the music video, Haring is shown working on the ground, painting a white skirt in tribal tattoos. Jones then gives life to the visual rhythm of his patterns, as she moves in the enormous skirt in front of her audience, creating a potent clash between Pop Art and extravagant performance. Jones received another set of white scrawls from Haring for her thrilling, provocative show at Paradise Garage in 1987. Once more confronting, performing, and debunking primitive clichés, she marched like a warrior queen across a platform surrounded by African masks and totems.

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Grace Jones as Katrina Queen of the Vampires by Richard Wenk, 1986, via Pinterest

Jones was then painted in Haring’s distinctive graffiti for her performance as Katrina the Queen of the Vampires for Richard Wenk’s 1986 comedy-horror movie Vamp. Jones dominated the show, despite the fact that she was playing a supporting part. She had her face and body painted in white and wore a red wig. Her reputation as a sensuous, fantastic figure was reinforced and solidified by Haring’s designs. Jones wore Haring’s motifs as their relationship grew and flourished. Haring basically became the designer of her iconic looks.

Grace Jones’ Other Collaborators

grace jones richard bernstein 1979
Grace Jones by Richard Bernstein,1979, via Pinterest

Grace Jones and Richard Bernstein started collaborating in 1979. Jones picked this popular artist to paint her image for the cover of her third album Muse. On this album cover, she presented herself as a muse in a self-assured and purposeful manner. Jones is shown in vibrant green, pink, blue, and orange contrasts. Bernstein portrayed her as an immaculate idol in technicolor.

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Grace Jones by Andy Warhol, 1986, via Pinterest

Jones and Warhol also started working closely together on artistic collaborations that went beyond simple introductions and project supervision. Warhol took nine similar pictures of Jones in a grid in 1986. Warhol also produced some of his iconic silkscreen prints of Grace Jones that year, with the color scheme centered on vivid yellow and pink tones. Jones certainly had the celebrity appeal and reputation that drew the king of Pop Art to her. Grace Jones’ inclusion in Andy Warhol’s Wall of Fame confirmed her status as a celebrity by establishing her as a subject deserving of being depicted in significant artworks. Jones always projected her identity through her physique. Her motto was One creates oneself.

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