It began on the U.S. election night, as British graphic artist Chris Barker pondered David Bowie’s role in the universe. It has turned into an image widely shared around the world – and, unexpectedly, needing to be frequently updated by its creator.
“What a year, I was thinking, David Bowie, Brexit and now this,” Barker wrote in his Tumblr blog. “A lot of people speculate that Bowie was actually the glue that was holding the universe together. It’s certainly been a bit different since he tragically passed away.”
Barker decided to put together a montage of images of Bowie and other famous people who’ve died in 2016.
“Initially I was going to have Bowie in the centre and everything else orbiting around him but then I found the full length shot of Bowie that you see on the final piece and it looked so Sgt Pepper I thought I might as well go with that idea,” Barker wrote.
The resulting image, designed to look like the cover of the Beatles’ 1967 album “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band,” was first posted Nov. 9.
The image was quickly re-posted around the world, and generated the hashtag #sgtpepper2016.
“Then Leonard Cohen died and he was so almost Beatles-y that adding him was a no-brainer and it went even more viral,” Barker noted in his blog. “Then Robert Vaughan, another great sixties icon also passed away and it went viral again. Then suddenly I was that dead celebrity photoshopper guy.”
It has kept Barker very busy.
Barker’s image includes Bowie, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder and more. Also represented is “America” via a Donald Trump “Make America Great Again” hat. Many of the faces are familiar in Britain but not necessarily the United States – broadcaster Terry Wogan and comedian Ronnie Corbett, for example.
Barker has freely given permission to use his ever-changing image. He asks in return that users donate to charity. He recommends the GoFundMe page for Jo Cox, the member of Parliament who was killed just a few days before the Brexit vote. A man with white-supremacist ties received a life sentence for the murder.
“I'm not profiting from the image but I'm suggesting if people like it to make a charitable donation and the charity I'm suggesting is that one but any charity would be good,” Barker said.
Barker just updated his image again, on Dec. 24, to include Status Quo guitarist Rick Parfitt.
The very next day came news that George Michael had died.
“This is terrible news,” Barker said. “Last Christmas? If you scripted this people wouldn't believe it.”
Barker’s away for Christmas and doesn’t have his laptop with him. He had a friend add Michael to the image.
And, on Dec. 27, he added “Star Wars” actress Carrie Fisher and “Watership Down” author Richard Adams. The next day, he added Debbie Reynolds.
“I really am starting to worry about the queen now. She has a pretty bad cold apparently.”