This is the fourth in our series Under The Covers, in which we shine a spotlight on a significant album with a seminal design approach to match. We kicked off the series with Kraftwerk’s iconic, mysterious Autobahn motorway graphics, and last time looked at Run DMC’s seminal Raising Hell.
Grace Jones and her accomplice Jean-Paul Goude have been responsible for many visual greatest hits: the elongated mouth and flattop of Jones’ 1985 Slave to the Rhythm album cover—a montage that looks like a trick performed with mirrors or a Xerox machine; the Tretchikoffian blue-skinned woman of Nightclubbing with a cigarette dangling from her lower lip that turns kitsch into cool; or the frankly bonkers 1985 Citroën advert where Jones takes a CX for a spin in the desert, materializing and then disappearing again into her own giant, mechanical head.
But perhaps the most impressive image to come from Jones and Goude’s collaboration was used for the cover of Island Life, a compilation of Jones’s musical works up to that point in late 1985, including her early disco phase with the legendary producer Tom Moulton and her immaculate Compass Point trilogy recorded with the All Stars (including Jamaican rhythm section and production duo Sly and Robbie) in Nassau, Bahamas. In fact, that image was the first thing Goude and Jones worked on together, shortly after they first met and fell in love in 1978.
The picture that Jones describes as her “naked and shining with one leg in the air” was for a Nik Cohn article in New York Magazine, her first proper feature. And what a way to announce yourself to the world. In I’ll Never Write My Memoirs, written with Paul Morley, Jones describes how Goude was seeking to embody “this brutal, animalistic energy that was part disco, part theater of cruelty, two lucid ways of representing an appetite for life. It was a visual description of an impossible, original beast, only possibly from this planet, a voracious she-centaur emerging from an unknown abyss and confronting people’s fears.”
The image itself is a human trompe-l’œil, with Grace poised in an unachievable position, natural and powerful, but also a physical impossibility. Part of the inspiration came from Goude’s own ballet dance training from his mother. The limbs here have been merged by a process of montage into a perfect, vertebrae-defying pose. It’s a manufactured, elegant piece of surrealism. Surely no other pop star has ever appeared so strikingly tangible and otherworldly at the same time. “It looked right to me and how I felt,” says Jones. “Athletic, artistic, and alien.”
Jean-Paul Goude has been a number of things in his time: a graphic designer and fashion illustrator, a photographer and advert auteur, as well as the director of art at Esquire in New York in the late 1960s and throughout the ’70s. He met Grace Jones in 1978 during a blurry period of decadence — with Studio 54 as backdrop and Andy Warhol supping at their table — at a time when he was supposed to be seeing someone else. Goude had been dragged along to a gig by his friend Glenn O’Brien, and had apparently started to hatch his fantasies before they had even met.
“I don’t think he fancied my looks. He fancied my spirit.”
“He saw me sing I Need a Man in front of a gay audience at a club with a bare torso and a prom dress,” Jones says in the book. “There was nothing pretty about it, nothing obvious, it was dramatically exhibitionistic, and there was a tangle of signals in terms of who was what and who was entertaining who. He was instantly captivated. I don’t think he fancied my looks. He fancied my spirit.” In an interview for Thames & Hudson’s 2012 Jean Paul Goude artbook, the titular Goude says he was fascinated by her “extraordinary physique.” When he and his muse came together it was an explosion of creativity. He was involved in everything from the album covers to the on-stage choreography, a gesamtkunstwerk that helped to define them both in the ’80s.
The cover design for Island Life is more than just that striking arabesque on the cover. The gatefold sleeve features visual highlights from their collaborations over the years, a celebration of black power and beauty, with an erotic intimacy that could only really be conceived by lovers. Goude’s fingerprints are all over it, from the Shark-fin hairstyle sketch from 1979 that would later be used for the Love Is The Drug single cover, to the eye-popping Parisian portrait of Grace and an imaginary male twin toasting each other au naturel devant une fenêtre with the Eiffel Tower in the distance.
More problematic is the picture of Grace naked on all fours in a cage. It taps into the fetishization and primitivism prevalent in French art history from Gauguin to Picasso via Josephine Baker dancing at the Folies Bergère. Dubious though this image is, you suspect Grace was always in control. As Goude said in an interview with Jérôme Sans: “No one tells Grace what to do: it’s whatever she wants, wherever she wants, with whoever she wants!”