Jonathan Barnbrook: “Blackstar” with David Bowie

Jonathan Barnbrook has collaborated with one of the most well-known musicians of all time David Bowie on multiple album covers over the years. The two met when Bowie and his wife were looking for someone to work on her book with. From there, they continued their creative relationship by working on various album covers together for the singer. In the 15 years the two collaborated, Barnbrook worked on 5 different albums with the late artist. Not only was Barnbrook reportedly one of Bowie’s longest-serving collaborators, he also worked directly with Bowie to create these many works. Barnbrook said Bowie “understood the value of the image on a record cover, when other people had forgotten about it” (Howarth) and would choose covers to annoy his record company. The one album I am focusing on for this assignment is Blackstar. This album was released on January 8, 2016. This was also Bowie’s 69th birthday and he passed away two days later.

The cover features a black star with a white background surrounding it. The design of this album was seen as simple or boring. As in the title of this article, Barnbrook says that “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” (Howarth). He says the idea is that the big black star in the middle represents a black hole that is sucking everything surrounding it which would be the end of the universe. Bowie wanted his cover art to always represent what the music inside was. He wanted his listeners to understand what he was conveying and worked around that. Barnbrook’s creativity also came through on this album with him using symbolism and saying he’s “always been influenced by Constructivist art, … the obliteration but also the spiritual, meaningful context of the abstract shapes. That followed through on ★ [Blackstar]” (Howarth). These were two creatives that allowed room for fun as well as serious art when working together. They understood what it takes to convey the music through the cover art and were able to work together in this way for 15 years, until liver cancer took the late artist’s life in 2016.



Howarth, Dan. “David Bowie Was ‘Facing His Own Mortality’ Says Barnbrook.” Dezeen, 30 Aug. 2016,