David Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’ designer discusses why he won’t reveal artwork secrets, and what’s left to find

'Not even Bowie knew about some of them'

The designer of the artwork for David Bowie‘s ‘Blackstar’ has spoken out about the many ‘secrets’ hidden within the sleeve.

Last year, designer Jonathan Barnbrook said that the vinyl sleeve and artwork for Bowie’s final album is packed with more hidden surprises – after some fans found that exposing the art to sunlight unveiled a galaxy of stars. Many more secrets have reportedly been found since.

NME attended a talk at the V&A this weekend to celebrate David Bowie’s birthday, where Barnbrook said he had learned to give away less of his creative process, after coming to a disagreement with the late music icon over releasing the original rough designs for ‘The Next Day’ in the acclaimed ‘David Bowie Is’ exhibition.


“I regretted it somewhat because David told me off,” Barnbrook told us. “He phoned me up and said ‘you didn’t ask me about putting the roughs in the exhibition’. I said ‘I thought it would help people understand how we got to it’, and he said ‘I’m not telling you off, but the final outcome is effected by you showing the roughs’. I think that’s a very important lesson that I learned. If the end product isn’t an immaculate finished thing, then you change the meaning – that’s why for ‘Blackstar’ I haven’t shared everything, I haven’t shared the roughs – maybe in the future’.

“From the beginning, we discussed not revealing everything. There are certain things about the cover which haven’t been discovered. Often, people still don’t know that it says ‘Bowie’ in stars at the bottom.”

Asked if he always intended for fans to be able to continue to make discoveries within the artwork, he said: “It was – there is something else which I may reveal in future, I may not. The thing is, it’s not a competition. It’s like ‘oh, you’ve discovered it, here’s your prize. We live in a world where everything is verified by going online. People tweet me, and I don’t answer them. I think the creative process of putting those elements together and coming up with a reason what the secret message is, actually is something that he absolutely would have approved of. ”

When asked if Bowie asked him to fill the artwork with secrets and messages, Barnbrook replied: “No, he didn’t – he didn’t know about some of them.”

Yesterday, it was revealed that the ‘David Bowie Is…’ exhibition would be heading to Barcelona next.


The musical icon died after a battle with cancer on 10 January 2016, just two days after he celebrated his 69th birthday and released what would become his final album, ‘Blackstar’.

While Gary Oldman led a tribute gig to his friend with a slew of past collaborators and special guests backed by his old live band in Bowie’s native Brixton this weekend, tributes have been paid to the Thin White Duke today on the anniversary of his death.


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