Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Artist behind Radiohead's album artwork unpacks the bleak shit that inspired them

Illustration for article titled Artist behind Radioheads album artwork unpacks the bleak shit that inspired them
Screenshot: Penguin Books UK (YouTube)

Aside from Pablo Honey, which joined in on the ClipArt disaster aesthetic that defined so many early ‘90s releases, Radiohead’s album covers are all pretty great. This is largely thanks to Stanley Donwood, the group’s longtime collaborator and the subject of a new profile from Penguin Books UK that highlights his work with—and apart from—Radiohead.

Though he doesn’t consider himself musically inclined, Donwood describes Radiohead’s music as “very visual.” “It looks like something,” he says. Donwood goes on to discuss some of the ways that “something” has manifested in his album designs. “Kid A was very influenced by the various wars in what had been called Yugoslavia and all of the news footage of that,” he explains.

Of creating OK Computer’s art, Donwood says he and Thom Yorke didn’t allow themselves to use the undo function in their design software, putting “something on top of the mistake” rather than erasing it. He also says he was “in a self-willed nuclear winter” during the process, “looking out the window and imagining it after nuclear weapons have been exploded.”

Donwood also discusses the difficult work that went into the cover of A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead’s latest LP, which he says was informed by him wanting to “get away from the evidence of the fact that I’d made the artwork.” He describes having wanted to make a Doctor Who Dalek that spun around shooting paint in a room—an idea that fell apart “for various reasons, mostly to do with my inability to do anything practically.” Eventually, after about “three weeks of nail-biting terror,” he had a creative breakthrough and ended up with around 30 paintings in the album cover’s style.


The entire video is well worth watching, not just for more on Donwood’s work with Radiohead, but also to hear about his books Ness and Bad Island.

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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Reid's a writer and editor who has appeared at GQ, Playboy, and Paste. He also co-created and writes for videogame sites Bullet Points Monthly and Digital Love Child.

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