by Kevin Mark Rabida . January 23rd, 2016
In an exclusive interview with architecture and design magazine website Dezeen, Bowie’s long time graphic design collaborator Jonathan Barnbrook said that the design reflects the musician’s mortality.
Released on 8 January 2016 just before his death, Blackstar was David Bowie’s 25th and final studio album. The artwork of the album consists of a large black star on a white background with the word “BOWIE” formed by the stylized star segments. The vinyl cover features the same design in full black.
“He always wanted to do something interesting, often to the annoyance of the record company,” said designer Barnbrook. “He understood the value of the image on a record cover, when other people had forgotten about it.”
Barnbrook described his working relationship with Bowie, stating that he would work directly with the spaceman, rather than through his management team, either through email or Skype.
“And with a personal working relationship it is the small things are brought into the project that make it, the jokes, the stupid moments, and the discussions about other things, not just the project at hand. It was a very good way to work.”
Talking about the design, Barnbrook said that the idea was simple but full of symbolism.
“This was a man who was facing his own mortality,” said 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.”
For this album, I think it’s not just about the symbolism in it, it is as much about the emotional feel of it, in particular, the vinyl, the black record, the black packaging, and the fact that you can see the record as a physical thing that degrades, it get scratched as soon as it comes into being, that is a comment on mortality too.
He also commented about critics of the design. “It’s subsided a bit now, but a lot of people said it was a bullshit cover when it came out, that it took five minutes to design,” said Barnbrook. “But I think there is a misunderstanding about the simplicity.”
Another artwork for the album used intersecting straight lines to form a star with a rift at the center resembling a black hole.
“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,” Barnbrook said. “These are things that relate to mortality.”
Jonathan Barnbrook, 49, has collaborated with Bowie and designed five of his albums. He was trained at London’s Saint Martin’s School of Art and Royal College of Art. Aside from graphic design, he has also created a number of typefaces.
What do you think of the minimalist take on David Bowie’s final album? Comment below!
Kevin is a reader first, a writer second, and a gamer somewhere in between. When not rooting for Tyrion Lannister for the Iron Throne, he's probably writing some morbid short story. He enjoys some surreal art, clever advertising campaigns, and a warm cup of coffee while reading Murakami.
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