Time has proven that while a tad excessive, Guns N Roses' 1991 double-album pairing Use Your Illusion I & II defined an era with bombastic Stones-ey rock n' honk peppered with a lyrically Lynchian worldview. Paranoid and strained as they are at times, the pair of albums burned bright and immodestly into the ether of rock godliness. Which is to say they're far less divisive as albums when it comes to the ear of the beholder, compared to albums such as The Black Album (Metallica), The Path of Totality (Korn), and most certainly, that other GNR record: Chinese Democracy. Still, being lavish is no crime, even if it's to the point of being ludicrous—even if it stands in contrast to what former Guns manager Alan Niven had to say in a new interview with VWMusic. Niven managed the band from 1986 until 1991, when he was replaced by Doug Goldstein.
According to Niven, Axl Rose paid artist Mark Kostabi $75,000 for use of his artwork on the covers of the UYI albums as well as merchandise—not knowing the images were public domain and evidently could have been used for free. Kostabi's work was viewed as controversial in the art world at the time as it regularly featured graphic reinterpretations of other established artwork. (The artwork featured on UYI I & II, for example, is an excerpt of Raphael's "School of Athens".)
Niven told VWMusic, “The biggest giggle I got was Axl paying [Mark] Kostabi $75,000 for the cover paintings without asking me about the idea first. He did not understand the images were in the public domain – we didn’t have to pay Kostabi anything for their use on merchandising."
Niven also suggests there were notable instances where Rose could be easily taken advantage of. "Look at how… [psychic] Sharon Maynard conned him. Another $75,000 for an 'exorcism,'" Niven continued, referring to the psychic adviser to Rose known as "Yoda" in the GNR camp. "The vulnerable being taken advantage of, and [Doug] Goldstein not minding the door,” said a bemused Niven.
All this considered, I'm still going to give Axl the benefit of the doubt here. Maybe he thought—artist-to-artist—that some kind of compensation for Kostabi was the only right thing to do. Rock stars have spent $75,000 on far stupider excesses—let's not hang Rose out to dry just because he's not fully aware of IP laws and protocols!