Andy Warhol and Mick Jagger represent two monumental figures in the 20th century's cultural and artistic landscape, with a connection marked by mutual admiration and several collaborations. Warhol, with his pronounced fascination for celebrity, was naturally drawn to Jagger, the iconic frontman of the Rolling Stones. Jagger, in turn, has harboured an appreciation for contemporary art, being intrigued by Warhol's avant-garde style. Warhol's legendary studio The Factory was a nexus for the era's artists, celebrities and visionaries and Jagger and his bandmates visited often, intertwining with influential contemporaries and further fostering a vibrant cultural milieu. This association further solidified Warhol's legacy as a multifaceted cultural influencer while bestowing upon the Rolling Stones an avant-garde credibility. Ultimately, the Warhol-Jagger connection underlines the profound potential of interdisciplinary artistic collaborations in shaping the zeitgeist of an era.
Warhol and Jagger first met at a party in 1964, when the Rolling Stones had not yet achieved stratospheric success and were just about to embark on their first-ever U.S. tour. Similarly, although Warhol had begun creating the artworks that would turn him into a household name that same year, he had not yet become the ubiquitous presence in the New York social scene that would define his later years.
The illustrious meeting would generate a relationship of mutual respect and artistic collaboration. Of Jagger's appeal, Warhol once said: “Mick brings out the bisexuality in men who normally would not be like that. He’s androgynous enough for almost anyone. That’s always been his basic appeal, mixed with the facts that: 1 – He’s very talented; 2 – He’s very intelligent; 3 – He’s very handsome; 4 – He’s very adorable.; 5 – He’s a great business person; 6 – He’s a great movie star; 7- I like his fake cockney accent… Image is so important to rock stars. Mick Jagger is the rock star with the longest running image. He’s the one all the young white kids copy. That’s why every detail of his appearance is important.” Warhol's omnipresent fascination with beauty, celebrity and the craft of personality is evident in the quote above.
Much like Warhol, Jagger had meticulously crafted his public persona, someone who was both a creation of the media and a master of it. Jagger quickly transformed from accounting student at the London School of Economics to the epitome of a rock icon with chiselled features, a magnetic stage presence and raw sexual energy. The dichotomy of his image — the allure of his good looks juxtaposed against his infamous bad boy demeanour — resonated with Warhol's recurring theme of duality in celebrity culture.
In April 1969, Jagger sent Warhol a letter thanking him for agreeing to “do the art-work for our new hits album.” The personal nature of their friendship can be seen in the tongue-in-cheek remark that “doubtless a Mr. Al Steckler will contact you in New York, with any further information. He will probably look nervous and say “Hurry up” but take little notice.” Signed with love, this letter would mark the beginning of a fruitful artistic collaboration between the two.
By this point, Warhol had already had a successful venture into album cover designing with The Velvet Underground & Nico, creating one of the iconic images in rock history in 1967. The cover featured a simple yet striking image of a yellow banana with the invitation to "Peel slowly and see." When peeled, the banana skin revealed a hot pink fruit beneath. Beyond its visual allure, this interactive design epitomises Warhol's knack for blending fine art with commercial imagery and his love for playful engagement with the audience.
The Stones eventually called Warhol to create the cover of their album Sticky Fingers, which is notable for being one of the band's first releases on their own record label and featuring a diverse range of musical styles. It includes some of the band’s most enduring songs such as Brown Sugar, Wild Horses and Can't You Hear Me Knocking. Warhol's cover created quite a stir, as it featured a black and white photograph showing a close-up of a jeans-clad male crotch with the visible outline of a penis. Like the Velvet Underground's, it also had an interactive element: the cover of the original vinyl LP featured a working zipper that opened to reveal a sub-cover image of white briefs. The vinyl release displayed the band’s name and album title, and behind the zipper the underpants were rubber stamped in gold with Warhol’s stylised signature.
The concept for the cover art was conceived by Warhol, while the actual photography was executed by Billy Name and graphic design by Craig Braun. Its provocative and interactive nature generated significant controversy upon the album’s release, but has since become a memorable representation of the band's edgy and rebellious image.
In the summer of 1975, Mick Jagger and his wife Bianca rented Warhol's house in Long Island. There, the group enjoyed spending time together, and Warhol took many polaroids. The ones that would form the basis for this series show Jagger relaxed and shirtless, wearing only a gold chain. His hair is characteristically charmingly dishevelled, giving the portraits a jovial and intimate appeal. Jagger's likeness is at times highlighted or obscured by collage-like colour blocks, and some of his features are highlighted by gestural drawing lines. Portrayed in various moods, the ten screenprints epitomise the glamorous world of 1970s rock and art.
The prints are signed by both Warhol and Jagger, doubling their mass appeal and ensuring many audiences would be interested. First published by Seabird Editions in London, the prints had an edition size of 250.
These works signalled a significant stylistic shift in Warhol's artistry, as he started to photograph his subjects more often instead of using the pre-existing images that characterised his earlier work. This more hands-on approach reflected a maturation in Warhol's exploration of fame, with the portraits serving as a tactile testament to the rock star's larger-than-life persona and the artist's evolving creative journey.
Years after Sticky Fingers, Warhol and Jagger collaborated for an album cover again, this time for their live album Love You Live. They worked closely alongside Charlie Watts for this cover design and, in preparation for this work, Warhol shot several polaroids of the band members in a variety of pictures, especially biting body parts. The selected image shows Jagger playfully biting the hand of a young child and is based off a polaroid that has been sold at Christies.
According to Ronnie Wood, the album originally only had the vast colour blocks and Jagger himself added the pencil scribble over the picture, alongside the band's name and album title. Warhol was apparently not too happy with these changes, as he believed that Jagger's face was enough to sell the work. In a diary entry from June 5th 1978, he says "I told Jerry [Hall] I thought Mick had ruined the Love You Live cover I did for them by writing all over it – it’s his handwriting and he wrote so big. The Kids who buy the album would have a good piece of art if he hadn’t spoiled it.”
Many critics believe that this marked the end of their collaborative relationship, although Warhol did attend the album release party.
Although Warhol and Jagger never collaborated artistically again, they remained friends. When Warhol died of complications from a gallbladder surgery in February 1987, Jagger stated in his obituary: “The thing that he seemed to be able to do was to capture society, whatever part of it he wanted to portray, pretty accurately. That's one of the things artists do, is show people later on what it was like. If you want to be reminded of a certain period, you can look at what Andy was doing then. He was very much in tune with what was going on. Of course, he was criticised for that, for being sort of trendy. But I think some people's great forte is being so in touch.”
Beyond the canvases and album covers, the camaraderie between Warhol and Jagger emblematically encapsulated the zeitgeist of the 1970s. Their friendship represented the confluence of Pop Art and rock 'n' roll, two dominant cultural forces of the era. Together, they not only blurred the lines between high art and popular culture but also symbolized a decade marked by experimentation, boundary-pushing and the unapologetic commemoration of celebrity. Within this bond, the 1970s found its vibrant pulse, as two of its most iconic figures drove cultural conversations and redefined artistic paradigms.
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