It’s hard to argue against what ended up being the final record from David Bowie, ★ (Blackstar). The album is a melancholy masterpiece of a man facing down his own mortality and leaving behind a ghost of his own design. Even if it wasn’t necessarily intended to be, it’s a beautifully designed exit strategy, a proper final word one of the world’s great artistic innovators. It’s just the cover art’s kind of dull, isn’t it?
At least, that’s a criticism graphic designer and frequent Bowie collaborator Jonathan Barnbrook has been dealing with. In a new interview with design magazine Dezeen (via Exclaim), Barnbrook discussed how his artwork for ★ is not as simplistic as people accused it of being. “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,” he said. “But I think there is a misunderstanding about the simplicity.”
Barnbrook went on, “This was a man who was facing his own mortality. The Blackstar symbol [★], rather than writing ‘Blackstar,’ has as a sort of finality, a darkness, a simplicity, which is a representation of the music” He explained some of the larger concepts tucked away inside those five black points. “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.”
Before working on ★, Barnbrock created cover artwork for each of Bowie’s previous four releases: 2002’s Heathen, 2003’s Reality, 2013’s The Next Day and 2015’s compilation album Nothing Has Changed.