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David Bowie Designer Explains ‘Blackstar’ Album Artwork

Columbia
Columbia

If you looked at the cover of David Bowie‘s Blackstar and wondered why there wasn’t more going on, visually speaking, graphic designer Jonathan Barnbrook would like to explain.

Barnbrook delved into the design process behind Blackstar during a recent interview with Dezeen (via Consequence of Sound), admitting that he was aware of a certain amount of blowback from fans after the record’s cover was revealed — and arguing that people who just see symbols against a white background aren’t really looking closely enough.

“It’s subsided a bit now, but a lot of people said it was a bulls— cover when it came out, that it took five minutes to design,” said Barnbrook. “But I think there is a misunderstanding about the simplicity.”

As was so often the case with Bowie, the arguably inscrutable Blackstar cover was the end result of real work, careful discussion, and a clear vision. “This was a man who was facing his own mortality,” explained Barnbrook. “The Blackstar symbol [★], rather than writing ‘Blackstar,’ has as a sort of finality, a darkness, a simplicity, which is a representation of the music. … The idea of mortality is in there, and of course the idea of a black hole sucking in everything, the Big Bang, the start of the universe, if there is an end of the universe. These are things that relate to mortality.”

Whatever fans may have thought about the cover, it didn’t put a dent in sales. Blackstar, which arrived mere days before Bowie’s Jan. 10 death, sold 181,000 copies in its first week of release — a large enough total to give him his first-ever No. 1 album in the U.S.

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