Stanley Donwood reveals why Radiohead's art is fit to print

Radiohead's 'sixth member', the artist Stanley Donwood, wants to revive newsprint as an artform. He tells Jon Severs why

Monday 21 February 2011 01:00

Stanley Donwood admits that his short attention span means he constantly does things in new ways. But you might expect that from an artist so closely associated with the world's strangest, big rock band: Radiohead.

Since 1996's The Bends, Donwood has produced all of the band's artwork and, just as Thom Yorke and Co push the boundaries musically, so does Donwood in the methods and materials he uses in his art.

Proof comes in his new show, Work On Paper, which started last week in London. It features screen prints of his Twisted Woods series and giclée (ink-jet) prints of a selection of art produced for Radiohead and Thom Yorke's The Eraser. Even in this snapshot, the variety is striking.

Over the weekend the band's new album, The King of Limbs, was made available for download and, naturally, Donwood has a surprise in store for the packaging of the physical release in May. It will be, according to the band, the "First (probably) newspaper album", which will incorporate "many large sheets of newspaper artwork, 625 tiny pieces of artwork and a full-colour piece of oxo-degradable plastic to hold it together."

Though it is a "new" development for music, the newspaper format is not a new direction for Donwood – papers are a constant of his career. His fascination with the medium began when he worked as a paper boy and found direction later in producing jokey newspapers for festivals.

From 2006, he found a more focused role for the format, using it to promote and explain his work. For example, for a 2010 San Francisco show he produced a special issue of his newspaper, Over Normal.

"I love the tactile nature of the newsprint," says Donwood. "I love the history of Fleet Street (which featured in The Eraser's art), the revolution that was moving type and how it meant that, for the first time, people were able to educate and inform themselves in an accessible way."

In his commitment to the format, of which the new Radiohead LP is the latest manifestation, Donwood is part of a growing movement of boutique news-printing – small-run, micro-focused newspaper publications. The popularity is such that The Newspaper Club prints news for anything from school papers and wedding souvenirs to corporate clients such as Liberty and Wired. Also printing are artists capitalising on the romance of newsprint, and the author Dave Eggers, who started his own bespoke San Francisco Panorama – a 320-page broadsheet featuring art and writing from the likes of Michael Chabon.

People harking back to newsprint in a digital age does not surprise Donwood. For him, papers are archives in a way websites cannot be. "A newspaper is a snapshot; a physical record of how things are. If you turned the electricity off, digital records would all disappear, but newspapers have the physical reality, the longevity, and that's brilliant."

Work On Paper runs to 12 March at The Outsiders Gallery, London, W1

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