It is March 13, 1995 and I am a teenager. I am in the middle of puberty and the world is kicking me in the chin repeatedly while delivering heavy doses of reality and I think “my god, is this really life?” I feel overwhelmed with the number of problems that plague myself and humanity, and what is worse, I feel like no one is talking about them, but really, no one is feeling them. Then I hear “Fake Plastic Trees” on the radio for the first time and I think, “these guys get it,” and suddenly I do not feel so alone. I feel understood. Thank god.
One of the most influential bands of my adolescence, and the world, is Radiohead. As an angsty teenager I would absolutely get lost in Radiohead’s music. It was more than music; it was a lifeline. While being immersed in the headphones, I would gaze at the album cover of “The Bends” and then later on “OK Computer, Kid A,” etc. The album artwork was always a companion, visually echoing the musical landscapes of Radiohead perfectly. For me the artwork cemented such an incredible influence of what Design is, what it is not, and what it could be throughout my life. When I was exploring Acrylic Painting, Drawing, or Architecture, I would often have Radiohead playing, and in the back of my mind, the album artwork would surface.
The artist behind all of Radiohead’s albums, branding, and propaganda is a man who was born with the name Dan Rickwook, but would later change it to the now famous Stanley Donwood. He and Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke met while attending the University of Exeter in the UK, and since then the visual growth of one artist coincided with the musical growth of another. A symbiotic relationship that has nurtured the ideals of expressionism for more than three decades. So much so that Mr. Donwood could be considered the 6th member of the band.
Stanley’s visual style can be described as bleak, manic, edgy, mythical, and full of wonder. I absolutely love it. There is so much energy in his designs; I desperately try to capture that kind of energy in my own work. His genius is the ability to render a landscape by using only two tones in a very honest and simple manner that generates an entire world within the viewers imagination almost instantly. His creations are easily recognizable but also strange and foreign, while at the same time being completely familiar. Maybe it is because I grew up listening to the music of Radiohead that I feel the overwhelming sense of “knowing” Stanley’s work. Could it be that I am just a product of the most diabolical brainwashing ever conceived by two artists (“just cause you feel it, doesn’t mean it’s there”)? Nah.
If you are not familiar with Stanley Donwood, or Radiohead, then I would strongly encourage experiencing both at the same time. Start with the album Kid A to really appreciate the musical landscapes Radiohead has to offer and then move forward in the discography. Or don’t, IDRGAFA.