Radiohead’s Cover Man Branches Out


Published February 18, 2011



On Monday, Radiohead fans got an unexpected Valentine when the band announced they were releasing their eighth studio album, The King of Limbs—in just five days. (They actually released it a day earlier—today—for those who had preordered; and the album’s first video, for “Lotus Flower,” is available now on Radiohead’s YouTube channel.) Of all Thom Yorke’s devotees, the singer’s longtime friend and artistic collaborator Stanley Donwood (born Dan Rickwood) may have been the most pleasantly surprised by the news.

“It was Valentine’s Day and it was my girlfriend’s birthday… there was a lot that was good about that day,” says Donwood, 42, who met Yorke in art school and has worked on Radiohead’s art since 1995’s The Bends. More than a dozen covers later, Donwood says the process still starts in “opposite positions and accidentally converges.” The release comes on the heels of the painter’s “Work on Paper” exhibition, which opened this week in London at The Outsiders gallery.

“It’s a little bit of everything, really. I found a lot of old work I’d forgotten I’d even had, stuff I haven’t even looked at for 10 or 15 years.” he says of the previously unseen giclée prints and drawings made from his series for Kid A, OK Computer, In Rainbows, and Amnesiac, which earned Yorke (aka Tchocky) and Donwood a Best Recording Package Grammy in 2002. Also included in the show are some new screenprints from his forthcoming “Bad Woods” series, featuring forest creatures from the cover of The King of Limbs.

“In England, in old forests, there’s really huge, dying trees and they have these names and myths attached to them. One of the biggest trees in the biggest forest in the south of England is called The King of Limbs,” says Donwood. “We worked in the forest in a derelict, stately home near The King of Limbs for In Rainbows, so we’re very familiar with it.”

Donwood previously worked exclusively in acrylics before spending a “year of frustration and annoyance” teaching himself to manipulate oils and solvents. In the process, he created a style—a layering technique involving oil and auto spray paint that eschews naturalism and mimics the colors used on the columns in Medieval cathedrals. “It creates a sense of distance and vagueness, but also a sense of closeness,” says the artist, describing how the works are meant to resemble “distant trees disappearing into the mist if you go into the woods on a foggy day.”