Stanley Donwood: Radiohead's Artist
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
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
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
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.
- 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.
the official homepage
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