GRACE JONES: ART AND ARCHITECHTURE OF THE BLACK BODY

Lecture / Slide Presentation at Black Portraitures III Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa Nov. 2017

This presentation is an excerpt from the research I am developing for my book Fade 2 Grey: Androgyny, Style and Art in 80’s Pop Music  - where I am writing an essay about Grace Jones. The objective is to examine the aesthetics of her constructed image in commercial media and establish a context for appreciating beauty and physical form, apart from her role as a musician and pop icon.

Collecting Grace

I’ve been collecting funk, soul and disco records since I was a kid in the 80’s and always loved songs like Pull Up To The Bumper, La Vie En Rose and My Jamaican Guy.  Grace’s unique style of deadpan lyrics mixed with an androgynous high fashion appearance always peaked my curiosity.  As I matured and took record collecting seriously as an adult, I noticed how interesting she appeared on those album covers.  Each stylized image of Grace revealed a new world of vibrant color and bold visual concepts. I had never seen a black woman look like that on an album before. Many covers featured futurist illustration, monochromatic video stills, and abstract depictions of the body – which appeared a bit dark and edgy.

Being an artist and graphic designer…these works really appealed to me and I became curious as to whom the art director was. I also developed questions such as:

Is this how she sees herself?  Does this album cover art relate to the music?  Is that a man or a woman?

As I plunged deeper into the creative mystery of Grace Jones, I realized that she is quite the enigmatic figure - and I may never know her true reasons for this self-  representation. I began collecting Grace Jones memorabilia, posters, record covers and magazine articles to see how many different ways I could see her. I am to this day a huge fan of hers.  One of my most memorable moments was standing 2 feet away from her at 3 am at NYC’s famous Club Shelter – where she performed. I stood in awe as she was singing right to me! I could talk for hours about Grace Jones, but I am just going to focus on a few aspects of her physical image in the areas of Commercial Visual Art, The Body as Sculpture and Her Presence in Film. The overall message I want to leave you with is that Grace has transcended the world of being a mere entertainment figure, her legacy of visual information has a unique and influential life of its own.

As I plunged deeper into the creative mystery of Grace Jones, I realized that she is quite the enigmatic figure - and I may never know her true reasons for this self-  representation. I began collecting Grace Jones memorabilia, posters, record covers and magazine articles to see how many different ways I could see her.

I am to this day a huge fan of hers.  One of my most memorable moments was standing 2 feet away from her at 3 am at NYC’s famous Club Shelter – where she performed. I stood in awe as she was singing right to me!

I could talk for hours about Grace Jones, but I am just going to focus on a few aspects of her physical image in the areas of Commercial Visual Art, The Body as Sculpture and Her Presence in Film.

The overall message I want to leave you with is that Grace has transcended the world of being a mere entertainment figure, her legacy of visual information has a unique and influential life of its own.

The Body As Art One of the key figures in Grace Jones’ creative representation is her former husband and art director Jean Paul Goude. This bold Frenchman toyed with notions of fetish, African beauty, colonialism and physical power dynamics in his portrayal of grace in album art, music videos and advertising. I’m going to share an excerpt from: The Princess and The Frog,  from 1985 album Slave To The Rhythm ( By Jean Paul Goude) “I was amazed when I first saw Grace Jones. She was the first to take radical fashion out of its predictable Parisian context and bring it into the music scene, where I had always thought it belonged… I decided, deliberately, to mythologise Grace Jones Black, shiny, muscular people -  aerodynamic in design. 'Twas to emphasize this belief that I painted Grace Jones blue/black. I am no longer sure what I fell in love with; Grace or my idea of what Grace should be.  But in the two years following the birth of our son, there was nothing else in my life….Grace let me take her over completely !” So taken with Grace’s untameable energy, Jean made her his muse. He fused those inspirations into what would become a substantial body of bold innovative physical design. Seen here with his cutup technique used for Slave 2 The Rhythm

The Body As Art

One of the key figures in Grace Jones’ creative representation is her former husband and art director Jean Paul Goude. This bold Frenchman toyed with notions of fetish, African beauty, colonialism and physical power dynamics in his portrayal of grace in album art, music videos and advertising. I’m going to share an excerpt from: The Princess and The Frog,  from 1985 album Slave To The Rhythm ( By Jean Paul Goude)

“I was amazed when I first saw Grace Jones. She was the first to take radical fashion out of its predictable Parisian context and bring it into the music scene, where I had always thought it belonged…

I decided, deliberately, to mythologise Grace Jones Black, shiny, muscular people -  aerodynamic in design.
'Twas to emphasize this belief that I painted Grace Jones blue/black. I am no longer sure what I fell in love with; Grace or my idea of what Grace should be.  But in the two years following the birth of our son, there was nothing else in my life….Grace let me take her over completely !”

So taken with Grace’s untameable energy, Jean made her his muse. He fused those inspirations into what would become a substantial body of bold innovative physical design. Seen here with his cutup technique used for Slave 2 The Rhythm

Night Fever: New York Disco 1977–1979, The Bill Bernstein Photographs explores the sexually and socially radical multiculturalism embraced by the New York disco clubs of the late ‘70s. The exhibition assembles 40 photographs from Bill Bernstein, taken from 1977 to 1979, accompanied by audio interviews, in an immersive installation that invites viewers to experience the freedom and intoxication of the disco era. Highlighted clubs include: GG’s Barnum Room, Le Clique, Xenon, Studio 54, Ice Palace, Crisco Disco, Paradise Garage, Electric Circus, The Fun House, and Hurrah. The unique context of these clubs allowed for unprecedented interaction between groups — straights danced with gays, whites with blacks and Latinos, young with old, and rich with poor. By publicly embracing alternate and previously hidden identities, these pioneers created revolutionary boundary-crossing communities of possibility and joy, paving the way for a future culture of inclusivity. Night Fever is an immersive experience, designed as a pop-up disco complete with an original Richard Long Audio System (infamously associated with clubs like Studio 54 and Paradise Garage) along with guest appearances by disco-era DJs.  Listen to exclusive my mixes made for concept development and promotion of this exhibition

Night Fever: New York Disco 1977–1979, The Bill Bernstein Photographs explores the sexually and socially radical multiculturalism embraced by the New York disco clubs of the late ‘70s. The exhibition assembles 40 photographs from Bill Bernstein, taken from 1977 to 1979, accompanied by audio interviews, in an immersive installation that invites viewers to experience the freedom and intoxication of the disco era. Highlighted clubs include: GG’s Barnum Room, Le Clique, Xenon, Studio 54, Ice Palace, Crisco Disco, Paradise Garage, Electric Circus, The Fun House, and Hurrah. The unique context of these clubs allowed for unprecedented interaction between groups — straights danced with gays, whites with blacks and Latinos, young with old, and rich with poor. By publicly embracing alternate and previously hidden identities, these pioneers created revolutionary boundary-crossing communities of possibility and joy, paving the way for a future culture of inclusivity.

Night Fever is an immersive experience, designed as a pop-up disco complete with an original Richard Long Audio System (infamously associated with clubs like Studio 54 and Paradise Garage) along with guest appearances by disco-era DJs. 

Listen to exclusive my mixes made for concept development and promotion of this exhibition