Stanley Donwood in San Francisco

Stanley Donwood, who is famed for the artworks he has created for Radiohead, is staging his first US exhibition from next week, at the Fifty24sf gallery in San Francisco…

Forgot Was Sorry

Stanley Donwood, who is famed for the artworks he has created for Radiohead, is staging his first US exhibition from next week, at the Fifty24sf gallery in San Francisco…


The show, titled Over Normal, will include a series of paintings influenced by the vibrant colours he saw on a trip to California, and the contents of spam emails that he’s received. Writing in a newspaper that he has created to accompany the exhibition, he says: “The work that would eventually become Over Normal started in California, and maybe it will end there. I found myself in the Golden State once, back in 2003, trying to make an artwork. I’d just arrived, and I was with a well-known ‘rock’ band who had decided that they were going to record an album in two weeks. Similarly I was supposed to produce the artwork in two weeks. Ho hum. It was the first time I had been to the west coast of America. It’s an eerie place for a European; incredibly familiar from television and movies, inhabited by people who mostly speak the same language, but at the same time indefinably foreign. This foreign-ness, I thought, was at least partly to do with scale. Huge skies, huge buildings, huge highways, huge vehicles. Part of this massive scale involved the many advertising materials and traffic signage employed along the multi-lane highways that dissect the built environment.

Crazed American

“I was in the car with my notebook, and for something to do I was writing down what all those signs and advertisements had to say. I realised that they only used a very few colours and the colours were bold, brash, and used in very visually compelling combinations. I became convinced that about 90 per cent of the messages that flicked past my retinas were using just seven colours. I noted these colours down: red, green, blue, yellow, orange, black and white. All, I think, made from pigments derived from the petrochemical industry, the same hydrocarbon trade that has made the modern world, its complex and energy-hungry civilization, possible. I decided to paint using these colours, straight from the tub. There were all sorts of practical difficulties involving viscosity and opacity, but soon I had my palette, which I eventually referred to as the ‘California palette’.


Donwood’s studio, photographs by Ambrose Blimfield

Donwood used this palette in the artworks he created for Radiohead’s album Hail To The Thief, and has used it in a number of projects since. The colours work well with the words from spam emails, another form of communication known for its shoutiness. Combined, they make striking, and noisy, paintings that are difficult to ignore. “These paintings are like some kind of weird, blatant advertising,” writes Donwood in the newspaper, “advertising from a zone inside my head where words are enough and there doesn’t need to be a product to buy.”


Business Penis

The exhibition at Fifty24sf opens next Thursday, September 2, and will run until October 27. For those of you that can’t make it to San Francisco though, Donwood has made the newspaper available to download from his site (where you’ll also find his witty musings on blogging). Visit the site here.


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