This post is not about record cover art, but about portraits of music legends Warhol was commissioned to make for magazines (Prince, Michael Jackson) and a book (The Beatles). What triggered me to write the post, was the cover of The Genius of Prince, the special commemorative issue Condé Nast published shortly after the funk god from Minneapolis had passed away in April 2016. At first I had totally missed it, but German collector Klaus Knop was so nice to show it to me. Thanks, Klaus. The Condé Nast crew re-used the portrait Warhol had made in 1984, especially for the November issue of the magazine Vanity Fair. Not a cover at that time though, but an illustration of the one page article titled Purple Fame. Also, the colours used for both portraits are different.
Warhol’s Michael Jackson portrait has to be one of the most iconic Time covers ever. Warhol was commissioned to do the portrait for the March 19, 1984 issue. About a year earlier Jackson had released his best selling album Thriller. Warhol made several versions of the portrait, with different background colours. For the magazine the portrait on yellow background was chosen. A large green version of the painting was auctioned for over one million dollars.
And then of course there is the glorious dust jacket Warhol designed for The Beatles, an illustrated history of Liverpool’s Fab Four. The book, written by Geoffrey Stokes and with a foreword by conductor Leonard Bernstein, was published in 1980 by Rolling Stone Press/Omnibus Press. Later that same year, on December 12th, John Lennon was shot in New York. Warhol had met numerous times with Lennon and Yoko Ono, they were very well acquainted.
The first edition of the hard cover book had two different dust jackets: one with a red banner with the title, and a second one lacking the banner. The Warhol portraits of very young John, Paul, George and Ringo, based on pictures by the Hungarian photographer Dezo Hoffman, were offered ready to frame. McCartney’s portrait was on the front of the book, Lennon at the back, George Harrison and Ringo Starr on the inside flaps.
One week after John Lennon’s death, the German magazine Stern borrowed Warhol’s portrait for the cover of their own version of the Beatles-story. On the cover it says: “John Lennon, as portrayed by Andy Warhol shortly before his death”
The four Beatles-portraits were reprinted on the cover of Rolling Stone in Italy, issue of March 28, 1981. Inside the magazine was a special booklet which offered the Italian translation of the complete text of Geoffrey Stokes’ book.
To my regret, Andy Warhol never made a single portrait of another great idol of mine: David Bowie. Not for a record cover, not for a book or magazine, not as a private paintng. Reason for that can be very simple: he probably never was asked or commissioned to do so. Although Bowie himself was a great admirer of Warhol, wrote a song about him (that Warhol hated), was hugely inspired by the Factory vibe, the Velvet Underground and Warhol’s theatre play Pork. Bowie would also play the part of Andy Warhol in the movie Basquiat. Wearing a genuine Warhol wig and jacket. A year ago, after Bowie’s sudden death, chief archivist Matt Wrbican of The Warhol wrote a moving and very funny story about this on the museum’s blog. A must read!