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Stanley Donwood: Radiohead's Artist Interview 

You can't judge a book by its cover but a good cover will leave a lasting impression, especially when you are talking about album covers. Abby Road anyone? Through the years an artform has emerged tied in with rock and a few artists' work have become synonymous with the bands they create the artwork for. Mention the name Derek Riggs and Iron Maiden fans will immediately know who you are talking about, the same goes for Stanley Donwood, the man that has given Radiohead a visual signature as distinct as their music. antiMUSIC was fortunate enough to conduct an email interview with Stanley recently to discuss his work for Radiohead, his writings and his new storefront where fans can buy high quality screens of some of his favorite works. We asked Stanley to give us the inside story on each piece of art and we got back an interview that demonstrates the quick wit behind the man that has created the unforgettable Radiohead art. (Several additions have been added to the storefront since we originally sent the interview to Stanley so not all of the pieces are covered here)

antiMUSIC: What first inspired you to become an artist?

Stanley: 'Artist' was just the most convenient way to describe myself on application forms for unemployment benefit. I'm not really sure if it describes what I spend my time doing. Obviously, on the forms I couldn't write 'loafer', 'lazy sod' or 'dole scum' or they would have refused my application. Looking back on the earlier years of my existence, I suppose it was wax crayons that inspired my decision to draw pictures.

antiMUSIC: How did you hook up with Radiohead?

Stanley: I think that my obsession with nuclear apocalypse, Ebola pandemics, global cataclysm and Radiohead's particular brand of unsettling melody have gone together quite well. How this came about I can no longer accurately recall, as I have children and bringing them up has rotted my brain.

antiMUSIC: What has been your personal favorite piece of art you've done for Radiohead (and also your favorite outside of Radiohead)?

Stanley: That is too hard a question for me. I've been pretty happy, on the whole, with all of the Radiohead work that I've done. Though maybe the long landscapes in the Kid A booklet could be a favourite. My personal non-Radiohead piece was a now-lost image which was composed of the advertising strapline, logo and blurb for a Ford car called the Probe. I replaced the picture of the car with a photo of a big erect cock. It was very popular, but the magazine that had commissioned the picture refused to print it.

antiMUSIC: You have a very distinct style that Radiohead fans have come to love. How much of the actual art is inspired by the music and how much by your personal vision?

Stanley: I don't know. When I've been listening to the music for a long time I can't work out where I end and they begin. So to speak.

antiMUSIC: The exciting news for fans of your work and the reason we're doing this interview is you recently opened up your online site to include a store front where fans can purchase prints of your work. Can you tell us how the store front came about?

Stanley: I've had a site called slowlydownward.com for ages, which has a lot of my written work on it; as I say, I used to make screenprints and I really like the process of printing and how the finished prints look. I've got so many pictures that no-one has seen, or only as a little CD-sized image, and I wanted to make f***ing great pictures that people can put on their walls. It's a way of getting pictures out in they way they should be seen; not as 4-colour litho on cheap paper, but as real pieces of artwork that have a much greater visual impact. 

antiMUSIC: Before we talk about the individual pieces can you fill the readers in a little bit about the prints you are selling. As far as size, material etc?

Stanley: The big ones are 970mm x 640mm, the smaller ones are half that. They're printed on the nicest paper I could find; 270gm archival-quality. Some of them are ten or eleven-colour prints; some are two-colour, some are five or six… and I'm doing some extremely limited runs - editions of ten prints - on black paper with silver inks.

antiMUSIC: Will you be adding more pieces as time goes on?

Stanley: Yep. I just can't get enough of the toxic solvents that are needed to clean the screens.

antiMUSIC: You've also published a few books. Can you tell us a little bit about those projects?

Stanley: The first one was called 'Slowly Downward', and it was originally published by a bloke I met in the pub. There were only 200 copies, printed on hemp paper using a half-defunct printing machine called a Risograph. That book is made up of about fifty very short stories, and it's just been republished by some other people who I didn't meet in the pub. The next book was written as a result of a bet, and it's called 'Catacombs of Terror!', and it's really bad. But it was meant to be bad, so that's okay. I read some real trash while I was researching how to do it; the idea was to write a pulp-style detective novel in one month… 

I'm putting a new book together, or at least I'm intending to. It's going to be called 'Household Worms'. Don't know who'll publish that though.

antiMUSIC: If you will be so kind to fill us in a little bit about art you are offering prints of on your site at the moment. Maybe a little bit about their inspiration, the environment in which they were created etc? 

  .....   

Alarm & Escape
- These were put together recently from ingredients I used for the OK Computer project. They're sort of warnings; the graphic language is stolen from traffic signs, exit notices and so on. The 'against demons' hex on 'Alarm' is adapted from an old hobo sign that American tramps used to use. It used to get painted on the sides of barns and so on, about a hundred years ago.

Happy Family
- This was the cover for Radiohead's Karm Police single, again from OK Computer. The main image is of a father leading his family into a home-made nuclear fallout shelter, from a laughable pamphlet the UK Government put out in the 1980s, trying to persuade us that a nuclear holocaust wasn't such a big deal.

Such a Pretty House
- Oh, and such a pretty garden. This was the cover for No Surprises, and pretty much sums up how I feel about suburban living. Car-dependant, short-sighted, narrow-minded, deceitful and ultimately doomed.

Operation Phantom Fury
- "…thousands of residents fled into the desert, leaving a ghost town, as American warplanes, helicopters and tanks pounded houses that the US military said had been occupied by enemy fighters…"

antiMUSIC: Do you think there is enough appreciation for art in this day and age?

Stanley: Same as ever. I don't suppose there's any less appreciation for graffiti artists than there was for whoever painted cave walls thousands of years ago. I kind of dislike it when people over-analyze art or writing. It's okay when they do it at college or whatever, but it gets a bit annoying when you overhear people talking s***e in galleries.

antiMUSIC: What's next for Stanley Donwood?

Stanley: Could be anything. Avian flu, traffic accident.
 

To learn more about Stanley's art and writing and to purchase screens of the work discussed above (and more) click the official site link below. 

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