Stanley Donwood: Work on Paper

Stanley Donwood’s solo show at Outsiders gallery in London, which opened yesterday, offers a first glimpse of some of the artwork he’s created for the new Radiohead album, The King of Limbs…

Bad Woods 1, 2011

Stanley Donwood‘s solo show at Outsiders gallery in London, which opened yesterday, offers a first glimpse of some of the artwork he’s created for the new Radiohead album, The King of Limbs…

“There’s three new screenprints here and a fucking great big drawing,” he says. “This is all from the work that’s to do with the record.” The artworks are inspired by nature, Donwood goes onto explain, and the northern European heritage of fairy tales and myths based around forests and woods. “It’s very much about natural forms. I’d heard something about the northern European imagination, in the sense of all our fairy stories and mythical creatures. They all come from the woods – Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel & Gretel…we’ve got all these stories and myths.

“Me and Thom were working on these ideas of strange, multi-limbed creatures that are neither malevolent or benevolent, they’re simply there, part of the living spirit of the forest. That’s come through into all of the work.”

Bad Woods III, 2011

Donwood worked on the artwork for the new record at the same time the band was putting the songs together. “It works at the same sort of pace as the music,” he says. “It’s something that grows very organically, which again went into the style of the artwork.”

Fans of the band can pre-order a special edition of the album, featuring a number of artworks from Donwood, online now. For the main cover artwork, he worked in oil for the first time. “It’s really, really hard,” he says of the medium. “I’ve only painted with acrylic before, which is bascially coloured mud that dries really quickly. It’s very forgiving, but oil paint isn’t really. It doesn’t dry at all quickly. Eventually, after a lot of disappointment I figured out how to use it. I use it in conjunction with Halfords spray paint, which is the magic ingredient.”

White Diamond Heist Bear, 2010

Donwood documented the development of the paintings with a high-definition camera, and the resulting images are used on the cover. “I was photographing them throughout the stages, because it takes so bloody long to do them,” he says. “Then with these huge digital images, where you can see the weave of the canvas and every brush mark, you can make quite incredible layered pictures.”

The special edition is centred around a newspaper Donwood has created. “The last one, In Rainbows, was like a coffee table book. It was this big thing – I felt quite sure that with determination you could probably beat someone to death with it, it was very heavy and hard. So I wanted to do something that was completely different for this. Also, the other thing was the sense of the music not coming to a halt – it was almost like this was kind of a report on its current status. What I like about newspaper is its ephemeral nature, I like the way the paper goes yellow and brittle when you leave it out in the sunlight.

Atoms For Peace – English, 2010

“I wanted to do this thing like a really annoying Sunday paper,” he continues, “you know when you buy the paper and all this crap falls out? I wanted to do something really annoying with all these crappy bits of floppy, glossy paper. I was going to do Hoover adverts and get the band to pose with a Hoover, and all that kind of thing. Which was a really dumb idea… so I didn’t do it. It would have been funny, but would have probably dented some reputation they might have… So it evolved into something else.”

In addition, the Newspaper Album will feature 625 tiny pieces of artwork, though Donwood refuses to be drawn on what these might be. “I’ll keep that as a mystery,” he says. “They’re sort of attached to each other but not quite – they kind of are and kind of aren’t. As soon as anyone sees it they’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.”

Atoms For Peace – Farsi, 2010

The Outsiders gallery show brings together the new works with new editions of older pieces by Donwood. These include a striking set of recent posters for Atoms For Peace, Thom Yorke’s ‘rock supergroup’ formed with Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea, amongst others. There are also a number of Donwood’s books for sale in the show.

The exhibition reveals the wide variety of artistic approaches Donwood has used in his work for the bands. Despite this diversity, he sees connections between the different series. “I can’t imagine doing the same thing all the time,” he says. “I don’t know whether that’s because I’ve got a short attention span, or because I’ve been doing record covers for such a long time, and you don’t want to have the same record cover each time. But there are linkages [between them] in my head that probably make absolutely no sense to anybody else.”

Lucky, 2011

Stanley Donwood: Work on Paper is on at Outsiders until March 5. More info is here.

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