The artist behind Radiohead’s album covers since The Bends in 1996 is selling a series of six huge dystopian paintings at Christie’s online auction next month.
Photo: Stanley Donwood, Residential Nemesis, 1999. Christie’s Images Ltd. 2021 (cropped. full image below)
The artist behind Radiohead’s album covers since The Bends in 1996 is selling a series of six huge dystopian paintings that are related to the U.K. band’s groundbreaking album Kid-A in a Christie’s online auction next month.
The cover art for Kid-A, released on Oct. 2, 2000, was made by the U.K. artist Stanley Donwood as a “digital invention,” crafted using 3-D-computer programs, but grounded in physical paintings that worked as a “palette we could draw from,” Donwood says.
“We worked very collaboratively to make artwork that both reflected what the band and Thom [Yorke, Radiohead’s frontman] were trying to do with the music, and to make sense of this very strange time—the millennium,” he says.
Donwood, who initially met Yorke at the University of Exeter in England, recalls making some of the six works now up for auction in a barn the band had bought as studio space with the money they had made from their acclaimed 1997 release, OK Computer.
The barn had a space where Donwood could also work, an arrangement that allowed him to make his paintings from a range of materials—acrylics, charcoal, spray paint, paper collage—as he listened to Radiohead creating their music.
“It was a very symbiotic process,” Donwood recalls. “I was trying to respond to what was happening in the audio landscape and translate that to a visual landscape. It’s a very nice thing to do—because music creates its own imagery.”
Christie’s is partnering with Yorke to present the works in an exhibit that will include drawings, lyrics, and digital art co-curated by Yorke and Donwood titled “How to Disappear Completely,” a reference to a song on Kid-A. The show will be up in the auction house’s London headquarters from Oct. 9-15.
The six paintings Donwood created from 1999-2001 will be offered within the auction house’s post-war and contemporary art online sale called First Open. The sale runs from Oct. 5-19. Estimates for Donwood’s works begin at £10,000 (US$13,810).
Donwood, who has also been the official artist of the Glastonbury music festival in England since 2002, won Grammys for the artwork he made for the covers of Radiohead’s Amnesiac and In Rainbows.
Several of the abstract paintings in the Christie’s sale, all roughly 66 x 65 inches, include upside-down triangular shapes that appear as sharp-pointed mountains or trees—imagery Donwood borrowed from German Expressionist prints he saw on a wall of a building when the band was recording “in Copenhagen or something,” he says. They’re “jagged—almost like teeth, like the land has teeth.”
These jagged points are the central landscape of the cover of Kid-A, rendered in shades of blue, gray, and white.
The painting Hole, 2001, features a deep black circular shape on the edge of what appears to be a snowy bank rimmed by a landscape of icy-blue mountains. In Trade Center, 1999, the backdrop includes more pyramid-shaped mountains, where in the center, a ghost-like figure appears to be pulling itself from a body of water.
In talking about Trade Center, 1999, Donwood recalls sketching the figure that became the center of this painting with a ballpoint pen one night, unaware that on that same night, Yorke was also using a pen to draw a series of flying toothed monsters.
“Without us knowing, both of us were drawing these intense drawings with a ballpoint pen of quite horrible things,” Donwood says.
“We are the same generation, the same stuff was happening,” he says. It was time, for instance, when the “news media had collided with the internet,” and for the first time, news became instantaneous, and things happening in far-off places were suddenly happening in real time. “The artwork I was making, the music they were making, was of course impacted by all of this,” he says.
The idea for taking the paintings out of Donwood’s studio attic to exhibit and sell came after a previous physical exhibition of artwork and music made for Kid-A and Amnesiac, Radiohead’s 2001 album, was scuttled because of the pandemic. A digital exhibition of art from this period instead will be released on Nov. 4, Donwood says.
“I thought, ‘I have these massive paintings I painted 20 years ago. It would be really, really great to show them to people,’” he says. And, he adds, they should be seen in person. “They are very textural—painted with the edge of my boot, knives, and sticks. They are visceral works.”