Artist Stanley Donwood, who is perhaps best known for his Radiohead artwork, has created this beautiful linocut which depicts his vision of Fleet Street being destroyed by fire and flood.
Fleet Street Apocalypse forms a companion piece to Donwood’s London Views linocut, which featured on the cover of Tom Yorke’s solo album The Eraser. It was based on photographs and observational drawings of Fleet Street and features the Royal Courts of Justice, the Cock Tavern, the Daily Express building, St Dunstan’s Church, the Dundee Courier building, St Bride’s Church, a distant St Paul’s Cathedral and the King & Keys pub all in flames. It was created specifically to be printed at the St Bride’s Institute on Fleet Street.
“Like my earlier London Views series, this picture is ultimately, if loosely, inspired by the 1493 book the Liber Chronaricum, also known as the Nuremburg Chronicle,” says Donwood. “Although the style of the woodcuts in that book has been twisted almost out of recognition.”
“I have been fascinated by Fleet Street for many years,” he continues. “Ever since ending up there one freezing winter night at the end of a disastrous psychogeographical exploration of Clerkenwell and Holborn. Once a shoreline track between London and Westminster it has, over the centuries, become synonymous with the printing trades, home at times to innumerable publishers, printers, newspapers and writers, including Samuel Pepys.
“The print trade has now gone from the street. I don’t think you can even get a photocopy done there now. In the 1980s a combination of factors, including Thatcherism, the disgraced Robert Maxwell, Rupert Murdoch and unfettered greed finally silenced the presses. Fleet Street Apocalypse was printed on possibly the last remaining press in Fleet Street.”
On printing the linocut, Donwood says: “Due to the large size of this linocut we had to think laterally when it came to working out how to print it. The picture was made up of two sections of linoleum, each cut separately and designed to fit on the platen of the Hopkinson & Cope press. The process we developed involved wrapping sections of the oily press with paper, rolling half of the large sheets of paper within a protective sheet and then printing the unrolled half. When the edition was done, we then repeated this process with the other section of lino. Registration of the two halves of the print was achieved with the archaic technique of making pinholes in the sheets during the first printing then lining up the pinholes for the second. This process means that each print, though part of an edition, is unique.”
An edition of 50 prints is available from slowlydownward.com. Donwood has also donated an additional edition of 40 prints to the St Bride’s Institute.