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Stanley Donwood gives oral history on Radiohead album artwork

on September 27, 2013, 3:00pm

radiohead albums

Stanley Donwood doesn’t just design jigsaw puzzles. In his spare time, he’s designed the artwork for every Radiohead album since 1995’s The Bends, in addition to Thom Yorke and Atoms For Peace records. In the latest issue of NME, Donwood discusses the creative process behind each of his covers. Here are a few highlights:

The Bends:

Donwood – or Dan Rickwood as he was then called – met Thom Yorke at Exeter University and then the rest of the band when they were called On A Friday. A few years later he would embark on a life-long working relationship, starting with ‘The Bends’. “Thom called me and said ‘Do you want to have a go at doing the record sleeve?’ I was so poor I’d have done anything, after a series of disastrous low paid jobs,” Donwood remembers. “I got a CPR mannequin and filmed it on an old-fashioned video camera with a video cassette in it. It all went a bit mad after the success of the album but I’d had a baby daughter so that eclipsed it a bit. I was 24 at the time and the first person I knew to have a child.”

Kid A:

“We did very well with Kid A considering what was going on,” says Donwood. Along with pressure to live up to ‘OK Computer’ and extreme fame, the band were also adjusting to different musical styles. Following the sparse method of ‘OK Computer’, Donwood let rip on ‘Kid A’. “I got these huge canvases for what became ‘Kid A’ and I went mental using knives and sticks to paint with and having those photographed and then doing things to the photographs in Photoshop. The overarching idea of the mountains was that they were these landscapes of power, the idea of tower blocks and pyramids. It was about some sort of cataclysmic power existing in landscape. I was really chuffed with it.”

The King of Limbs:

The artwork for The King Of Limbs totally changed from the original idea. Donwood was originally going to paint each member of Radiohead. “I said, ‘We’ve never had your portraits on the record’ so I thought I’d do portraits in oil in the style of Gerhard Richter’s blurred photo-realistic work. The problem was I’d never painted with oils before and I’m not Gerhard Richter so it was just a series of painted disasters”. When he went into the studio to hear an early draft of the album, it made him think of forests so he painted over the Richter portraits with colourful trees. Will we ever see the portraits? “They aren’t worth X-raying “he says. And which member is behind the main cover? He doesn’t remember. Perhaps we’ll see portraits of the band on the next record.

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