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Artistic Collaborations: Keith Haring & Grace Jones

Result of the collaboration between Keith Haring and Grace Jones
Grace Jones’ back painted by Keith Haring

By Charlotte Lydia Stace

“Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself.”

Grace Jones

This article series explores some of the most exciting and innovative creations that have sprung out of artistic collaborations. Today we take a look at the legendary get-together of two icons of the 20th century: American artist Keith Haring, known for his graffiti-esque pop art and model, musician, and actress Grace Jones. 

Read on to find out more about how their encounter in 1980s New York led to a collaboration on the intersection between visual art, dance, and performance.

Keith Haring, From New York City’s Subways to Fame

Born in Pennsylvania in 1958, Keith Haring attended the Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh as a teenager and later moved to New York City to follow his dreams of becoming an artist. It was there that he signed up to the School of Visual Arts and began to mix with local communities of other young artists. Interested in the representation of movement, he started to leave his mark on the city with “subway drawings”, chalk outlines of interlocking bodies on walls and old advertisement posters in subway stations. Soon enough, he had developed a truly personal iconography and style, and his legendary silhouette characters, from the radiant child to the barking dog, became easily recognizable. Following fame, he moved to larger-scale works focused on street culture and social activism, addressing political and societal themes, from AIDS awareness to education and mental health. By the 1980s he had started exhibiting his work both in the US and internationally and was included in the 1984 Venice Biennale.

It was during the 1980s that Haring met Grace Jones. 

Grace Jones, Pop and Fashion Icon

Grace Jones is a Jamaican-American model, performer, singer, and style icon. Born in 1948 in Spanish Town, Jamaica, she moved to Syracuse, New York with her family and began modeling as a teenager, scoring contracts with fashion houses such as Yves St Laurent and Kenzo. Her image and style were unique for the time, so much so that she was featured on the front cover of fashion magazines such as Vogue and Elle. Celebrated for her androgynous look and striking features, she attracted much attention for her rebel and fierce personality.

In the late 1970s, she began taking steps to develop her music career and soon topped the U.S. dance charts. Her musical style was heavily influenced by a range of genres including reggae, funk, new wave, and pop, and over the years has inspired musicians such as Lady Gaga, Annie Lennox, and Rihanna. Her albums such as Warm Leatherette (1980), Nightblubbing (1981), and Slave to Rhythmm (1985) were all very well received and catapulted Jones into the limelight during the 1980s. It was around this time that Jones began starring in a number of high-profile films such as the 1985 James Bond movie A View to a Kill, as well as her iconic portrayal of a vampire in the 1986 film Vamp

After rising to fame, the multi-talented Jones started mixing in wider artistic circles. She regularly met with artists such as Andy Warhol and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, which is how she began a collaboration with the young pop artist, Keith Haring. 

Keith Haring & Grace Jones

Grace Jones and Keith Haring came together in 1984 when they met at Robert Mapplethorpe’s New York studio. They were joined by Andy Warhol, who had taken a shine to Haring.

After making a splash in the art world the pair became established fixtures in the city’s clubbing scene and the world of celebrity, mixing with the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Fela Kuti. Their iconic artistic collaboration still stands today as a legacy of the vibrancy of 1980s New York’s cultural scene.  

Beyond Murals: Keith Haring’s Body Painting Practice

The reason behind Keith and Haring’s first creative encounter was that Grace Jones’ newly released album “Slave to the Rhythms” was making its way up the Billboard charts and Warhol wanted to feature her in Interview magazine. For the occasion, he organized a marathon 18-hour photoshoot where Haring would paint the singer head-to-toe, Mapplethorpe would take the photograph of her body painted and adorned by sculptural jewelry specifically designed by David Spada, and Warhol would oversee the operation. This wasn’t the first time Haring a body as his canvas – in fact, he had already painted the legendary Tony Award-winning dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones in a session photographed by Tseng Kwong Chi – but the shooting for Interview Magazine become the starting point of a special collaboration between Haring and Jones, one that would last several years. 

Grace Jones body-painted by Keith Haring
Grace Jones body-painted by Keith Haring, New York, 1985, The Guardian.

“I’m Not Perfect (But I’m Perfect For You)”

Jones asked Haring to paint her again for the music video of her hit song ‘I’m Not Perfect (But I’m Perfect For You)’ in 1986. The video shows Haring creating an impressive 60-foot tall skirt with his signature style of lines for Jones to wear and also features a very brief cameo from Andy Warhol shortly before he died. 

Grace Jones - I'm Not Perfect But I'm Perfect For You

Grace Jones starring in Vamp

That same year, Haring painted Jones once again for her appearance as a vampire in the film Vamp (1986), where Jones performed a dance and stripped to reveal the artwork covering her body. The pair began to receive much acclaim and media attention for their collaborations. As such, Jones became invited to perform at the New York nightclub, Paradise Garage. Once again she enlisted Haring to paint her for her appearances there. 

Video still from 'Vamp' showing Grace Jones painted by Keith Haring
Video still from the film Vamp, 1986

“If you are a fan of doing the unexpected, and I am, then it is an advantage to be highly skilled at changing your mind. If you do not want to limit yourself, then be prepared to change your mind—often.”

Grace Jones

Wondering where to start?