• Steven Heller

David Bowie Design Icon Roundup

This is David Bowie’s year and here is a roundup of the news.

On March 23 the V&A opens David Bowie Is, an exhibition of more than 300 objects that include handwritten lyrics, original costumes, fashion, photography, film, music videos, set designs and Bowie’s own instruments.

√ March 11 was the premiere of Bowie’s first album in ten years titled The Next Day and Jonathan Barnbrook designed the covers for album and singles. Before release, the album design caught the eye and ire of the UK design press.

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Dezeen writes: “. . . graphic design studio Barnbrook has defaced a classic David Bowie album and upturned a 1970s photograph of the musician to create the covers of his new album and single.”

Barnbrook responded on his blog with an explanation:

There has been much discussion surrounding the cover of the new David Bowie album. . . so thought I would answer a few questions that people have asked about it.

– Why not a new image for the cover? We wanted to do something different with it – very difficult in an area where everything has been done before – but we dare to think this is something new. Normally using an image from the past means, ‘recycle’ or ‘greatest hits’ but here we are referring to the title The Next Day. The “Heroes” cover obscured by the white square is about the spirit of great pop or rock music which is ‘of the moment’, forgetting or obliterating the past.


However, we all know that this is never quite the case, no matter how much we try, we cannot break free from the past. When you are creative, it manifests itself in every way – it seeps out in every new mark you make (particularly in the case of an artist like Bowie). It always looms large and people will judge you always in relation to your history, no matter how much you try to escape it. The obscuring of an image from the past is also about the wider human condition; we move on relentlessly in our lives to the next day, leaving the past because we have no choice but to.  More . . .


√ On March 17 Cracked Actor, a 53-minute-long BBC television documentary film about Bowie will premiere in the United States at the second SVA/BBC Design Documentary Film Festival at the SVA Theatre in New York (333 West 23rd Street), curated and moderated by Adam Harrison Levy and myself. (see trailer here.)


Cracked Actor is a film about designing a persona. Filmed in 1974 when Bowie was a cocaine addict, the documentary is notorious for showing Bowie’s fragile mental state during this period. It was made by Alan Yentob for the BBC’s Omnibus documentary series, and was first shown, on BBC2 in the United Kingdom, in 1975 and never released abroad (except for a few bootlegs).  Yentob will be on hand for a Q/A about this and another film about the Chelsea Hotel.


The tour and film coincided with a prolific time in Bowie’s recording and acting career. During the summer of 1974, Bowie started recording at Sigma Studios Philadelphia for what became the Young Americans LP. He was about to commence work on The Man Who Fell To Earth film – the film’s soundtrack was possibly due to be Station To Station but was later shelved. Many stills (photos) from Bowie in the US in 1974 on tour and recording, of which some sequences can be seen in Yentob’s Cracked Actor BBC documentary, have been extensively used for LP covers including David Live, Station To Station and Low, as well as inserts for the Rykodisk and anniversary booklets for the CD pressings of the LPs, which includes Young Americans.


Some tickets for the SVA/BBC Design Documentary Film Festival are still available at $15 for a day pass (six films) and $10 for students here.

For more Steven Heller, check out Citizen Designer: Perspectives on Design Responsibility, one of the many Heller titles available at MyDesignShop.com.

#DavidBowie #DailyHeller #SVABBCDocumentaryFilmFestival #jonathanbarnbrook #StevenHeller

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