Beyond Radiohead: The Paintings and Prose of Thom Yorke Collaborator Stanley Donwood


In two weeks, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke will sell an original painting at a Bonhams London auction, to benefit The Trade Justice Movement and their Make Poverty History campaign. The work is the product of a collaboration between Yorke and printmaker Stanley Donwood, whom he met as a student.

Donwood first started making album and promo art for Radiohead and Yorke’s solo projects when he worked on their album The Bends in 1994. Since then, his aesthetics have been hard to separate from the band’s, making it shamefully easy to forget how much great prose and painting Donwood has authored outside of Radiohead’s orbit. Here are a few highlights from his portfolio from outside of the music world.

Stanley Donwood, Faster, 2007. Acrylic on canvas. 36 x 36 in.

[Image via Flickr]

We loved each other so much that sometimes it hurt, even when we were close. I wanted to be her and she wanted to be me. Sex never felt complete, and afterwards we talked carelessly about easy subjects to avoid discussing the ache that bruised us both. So one day, in the kitchen, she cut me and I cut her; gently, slowly, too easily. It was the knife we used for onions and our tears were painful but expectant. We dripped the blood into coffee mugs, then bandaged up and went to bed. We fucked and there were stars but we saw different constellations. The next day the blood was dry and rusty in the mugs. We scraped it diligently onto sheets of paper. We looked at each other silently and lowered our heads to snort each other’s dust. Afterwards we both carried a pouch of powdered blood, and when we were low and apart we would retire to a restroom and sniff, sniff, sniff. Oh my darling, we went on and on. Our blood was there always, red and viscous, burnt ochre and blowaway. My blood in your nasal membranes, filtering into your capillaries, finding its inexorable way to your heart. Your blood. My nose. My heart. We belonged to each other and we had made our love tangible, real; something that could be weighed and consumed, taken and enjoyed. It wasn’t a surprise when we used the scalpel to shave flesh from each other’s upper arms. We dried the flesh, though it was difficult to dessicate it completely. We used the airing cupboard. The powdered flesh was better ; cocaine to blood’s speed. Did it end badly? Did we go too far? Was our love replaced or deleted by want or need? In losing ourselves in each other did we lose the essence in ourselves that the other loved? Did time simply bore us with its slow wearing-down? I have no answers to any of those questions. But now, sitting here in the kitchen, I admit I am scared of the knife, that I can’t dig deeply enough to draw blood, that I will have nothing in the morning but red, raised scratches on my arm. I don’t want her to cut me. Did we kill each other, or are we living happily; but only as happily as you are?

From Donwood’s story, “Snuff”

Stanley Donwood, Hollywood Limousine, 2012. 56 x 91 cm.

[Image via Tag Fine Arts]

My soaked clothes began to gently steam by the gas fire in the pub, though I felt cold, chilled deep to my core. I held a biro over my open notebook as I tried to make something useful of the small events of the day. The old walls of the building muffled the traffic’s roar, and my thoughts seemed likewise faded. The yellow light from the tasselled shade reflected against the frosted glass in the window. It was a black night outside. The fire continued to wheeze and choke. I looked down at my notebook. ‘There will be no Quiet. There will be no Peace.’ My pen was poised above the final full-stop. I frowned, unable to remember writing the words. For the first time I gazed around the room. When I had come in I’d thought the small room was empty, but now I saw that a man was sitting at another table, his back to me. He was wearing a cheap-looking chalk-striped suit, with scuffed black patent leather shoes. Leaning against the wall next to him was an umbrella, water pooling darkly where the ferrule rested on the floor. His greying hair was slicked back from a balding head, and the lines on his face continued round the back of his neck. He was wearing glasses. I realised I was staring, and looked away. Sighing, I closed my notebook and tucked my biro back in my pocket. I wondered if it was still pouring outside. I gazed around the room. The man at the other table had opened a briefcase that he had in front of him on the table. From it he pulled a sheaf of A4 papers, which had what looked like monochrome photocopied passport photographs on them, about nine to a page. There were about four or five lines of what I guessed were details about each person printed under each photo. He shuffled quickly through the papers, as if to count them, then started to look methodically at each. His pen paused a few times over certain of the pictures on each page, but he evidently decided not to mark any of them. The light glinted in the portion of his glasses that I could see, and suddenly I had the uncomfortable feeling that he could see my reflection in them, and that he had noticed that I was looking at him. But he made no sign that he had. He continued to slowly leaf through his papers. Nevertheless, I looked away.

From “Peace and Quiet”

Installation shot from Stanley Donwood: El Chupacabra at Weapon of Choice Gallery, Bristol.

[Image via Jerforceone]

I am sitting outside my favourite bar, drinking coffee and smoking quietly. In the distance, through the heat and softly settling dust of siesta-time, I hear a faint clattering and chanting. I turn towards the sound, straining my ears. After several minutes have brought the noise closer, I realise that it is the music of a grand religious procession of some kind. My suspicions are confirmed when a colourful scene bursts into the stillness of the square. In the centre of a mass of Aztecs are a royal couple, hoisted up on an elaborate double throne. The Aztecs are all expressionless, their eyes blank and dead as they chant and sing. I glance nervously around, but I am the only person in the square. The bar appears long-closed, and my coffee is cold. As the Aztecs turn to stare vacantly at me, I feel certain that I should be elsewhere. I unfold from my chair and bolt along a narrow alleyway between tall buildings, the washing lines flapping high above my head as the baleful roar of the Aztecs echoes from the square. I run this way and that, my heart pounding and my face streaming with sweat. I am lost, and in a blindly unreasoning panic.

From “Aztec Procession”

Stanley Donwood, Hollywood Dooom, 2012.

[Image via LA Weekly]

and after all the parties and the reunions and those funerals and everything, i remembered that we had buried a time capsule. perhaps we were already old friends when we had the plan; fill a sealed box with our secrets and bury it. i think the idea was to dig it up when all our secrets had become aged and meaningless and didnt hurt and couldnt break anything. i’m here now typing on my computer. same old, same old. my language isn’t necessary at all. everything has to go out. i feel like a dunce. i’ve landed on an alien world. life is a seedy, dirty, nasty thing, but it has to be covered. my life is pretty much covered with accidents, disasters, mistakes; all small, all inconsequential. nothing I’ve done would interest you. i buried my secrets. my life was, you know, great and interesting and everything. and awful and unbelievable and terrible. and exciting. and boring. over.

From “Dead Now”

Occupy post, via Tristate Indie

I married during a sweaty fever of happiness and had been considering distaste for some years when it started. My face and chest began to feel too warm, as if I had run too far. On the morning following our third anniversary I awoke blearily, and padded to the bathroom where I found my mirrored self an impressionist caricature of what I expected. My skin had become my enemy; my self incarcerated within a prison that displayed my unhappiness publicly. I pulled at my features, pressed hard on my cheeks to bring a brief semblance of my previous normality to my face, but the details were all gone. I had to blur my eyes to see my past. I left our house, and moved like a ghost through the streets, unhappily aware of the sharp three-dimensionality of my surroundings, the microscopic actuality of other people. I took short breaths, the air entering shallowly through my misty nostrils. It was like inhaling through cloth. I needed solitude, and walked quickly to the edge of the town. I passed along deserted roads, scuffing dust, keeping by the high walls in the shadows where I belonged. It got late, and I worried that the dusk would assimilate me, that I would disperse like blood in the ocean. Reluctantly I returned home. My wife greeted me, and asked after my day. She talked for a while, but I didn’t really hear what she said. I sat, morosely prodding at my face, unwilling to look at her eyes. I knew she would be squinting, making small head movements in an effort to force me into focus. We divorced quite soon after. For a long time I thought that I understood why, but when I asked her one afternoon when we met in a cafe, she said I had got it wrong. It wasn’t that, she said. It wasn’t that at all.

From “Island of Dr. Moreau”