Magazine Covers Designed by Famous Artists

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You won’t see a GQ magazine cover designed by Michelangelo. Or the Time layout by Leonardo. It’s a safe bet that Van Gogh would’ve turned down offers by Tiger Beat or Seventeen. Probably.

But you will find Muhammad Ali given a renaissance, St. Sebastian treatment on a cover of Esquire. There’s a rich history of artists who have lent their lens, photographic and otherwise, to some of the best-known monthlies in publishing.

Top: An exotic image by Chinese photographer Chen Man.
Complex magazine cover with T.I. rapper, art cover design by Jose Parla
Top: José Parlá adds his artistic touch to the cover of Complex magazine. Bottom: A video with Parlá talking about his painting, “Nature of Language.”

José Parlá

Parlá has struggled against the term “street artist,” a phrase he considers limiting and shallow. He’s brought his outdoor art indoors through every medium he could lay his hands on, including painting, sculpture and photography. You can look at his Complex August/September 2010 cover in more than one way: is this a photographic work as magazine cover, or does it transform rapper T.I. into an installation?

vogue magazine covers by salvador dali, optical illusion vogue covers by dali, optical illusion
Various Vogue covers by painter Dalí. Images © Salvador Dalí.

Salvador Dalí

The world of fashion is surreal in its own right. Accepting that, it follows that Dalí and Vogue were a natural match. He created many works for the magazine, one of his earliest for its April 1944 cover. The artist employed many of his usual suspects, from the open and accented perspective, to images of stone, insects and a horseman. Even his rendering of the magazine title is a surreal pastiche of images and textures.

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Tatoo book
magazine-cover-art-10 fashion cover for id magazine by chen man
Chen Man’s beautiful photography for i-D magazine.

Chen Man

Beijing born Chen Man fashions her art in the commercial world of fashion photography. She’s worked for the best publications in the business: Vogue, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan. Some of her most striking work can be found on the covers of i-D magazine (you know it’s an i-D cover if the right eye is closed or covered). Her use of colors and other effects give many of these pieces a unique result—call it painted photography.

muhammad ali on esquire magazine cover by george lois Andrea Mantegna’s 1480 painting, “St. Sebastian, and blonde woman shaving face, esquire cover
Clockwise: Esquire covers with Muhammad Ali and Virna Lisi by George Lois, and a painting of “St. Sebastian” by Andrea Mantegna.

George Lois

Art director extraordinaire Lois saw champ Muhammad Ali as a martyr: the boxing commission stripped the fighter of his heavyweight title when he refused military service. Lois envisioned the Esquire April 1968 cover after Andrea Mantegna’s 1480 painting, “St. Sebastian” (see top-left). According to Lois, he went through a few verbal rounds with Ali who argued, “I can’t pose as a Christian.” A phone call was placed to spiritual leader Elijah Muhammad who gave the photo shoot his blessing.

Sculptures from Hold the line art show by Kaws complex magazine covers with nerd and clipse. Art by Kaws
Top: Cartoon style sculptures from KAW’s art exhibition, “Hold the Line.” Image © LA Weekly. Bottom: Magazine covers illustrated by the artist.


KAWS has also rendered covers for Complex, giving his cartoon treatment to the likes of N.E.R.D. and Lupe Fiasco. Originally from New Jersey, he relocated to Brooklyn where he began as a street artist. Kaws subverted cartoon images into universal themes, creating everything from limited-edition vinyl toys to full-blown installations. In 2012, he even got his own balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

All other images © respective artists and magazines
Ben Solomon

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Ben lives and writes in Chicago, Illinois. When he's not dabbling in the Scene 360 scene, he pens a monthly, hard-boiled detective series. Subscription info, samples and more can be found at Follow the author @ and view more articles.

December 8, 2013 Art Design Fashion Photography