July 25, 2005
Stanley Donwood is the semi-official sixth member of Radiohead. Having designed all artwork from The Bends onwards, he has created one of music's most distinctive band images. Now he's screen-printing old favourites and new classics, and selling them through his website. Here he tells GQ exclusively why.
How did you first get involved with the band?
"I have lied about this so many time that the truth, if there ever was one, has become impossibly sedimented in the strata of my deceit." (Donwood met lead singer Thom Yorke at the University of Exeter)
Who or what inspires you?
"The first pictures that I ever saw were by John Constable, on biscuit tins and as jigsaw box lids. When in the Eighties I saw Peter Kennard's versions of these paintings, with 'The Haywain' as an image of a missile launcher, I knew that I could be an artist. Or something."
What's your favourite Radiohead artwork?
"Kid A. The artwork for this record was almost impossible to do. I wanted to make artwork that looked, from a distance, like jewellery thrown onto mud, but close up revealed itself as the most ghastly shit that people can ever do to each other. I was fascinated by the horror in the Balkans at the time. At the same time, this was a continuation of the work on OK Computer, and it continues on Amnesiac and Hail To The Thief. So they're all inextricably linked."
Are you, for sound bite purposes, "the Terry Gilliam of Radiohead"?
"While it's really complimentary to be compared to someone such as Terry Gilliam, I don't honestly think it's appropriate. God, I'd love to make something as good as Brazil. Here's the riposte: a sound bite is a statement designed to preclude the possibility of intelligent thought."
Do the band have input with your work?
"Oh, man, I'm terrible at working on my own. There's no frame of reference, no one to tell you if what you're doing is good or fucking terrible. I once spent two months working on this idea that combined topiary with porn. I joined the National Trust and everything, just so I could cycle to all these gardens that had famous topiary in them and photograph it. I wanted to make pictures that had phallic topiary fucking vulva-shaped clouds. Quite tastefully, I might add. Anyway, there I was, taking photos and really getting into it... until Thom told me that it might not be.... quite the thing... for the new record. Honestly, topiary and photography... what was I thinking?"
So why the new venture?
"I hadn't screen-printed for about 15 years and I thought I'd better start with something I knew. And I imagined that a few people might like proper versions of pictures only ever seen as the 12x12cm images in jewel cases."