Tuesday, 7 April 2015

An Interview with the Wonderful Stanley Donwood

I met Stanley Donwood a few years ago in a basement in Soho. I heard it used to be a sex dungeon. By the time I was sitting across from him at a small wooden table it had turned into an art gallery. It was a pleasure chatting with him. Donwood is the kind of intuitive and intelligent man that you wish would appear on your left at every dinner party. Below is our interview, published in Exit magazine.


Stanley Donwood is an English artist and writer who is famous for designing Radiohead’s album artwork.  He has been collaborating with Thom Yorke for almost two decades. Donwood runs a studio called Slowly Downward Manufactory and he regularly exhibits his distinctive linocuts, paintings, and drawings in galleries around the world.  When not creating visual art, he writes dark but lively prose. EXIT met up with Donwood before his recent show at the Outsider’s Gallery in London to discuss the next Radiohead album, Thom Yorke, writing, and how temperature affects art.

The next Radiohead album is described as a newspaper album with tiny pieces of artwork held together with plastic. What was the inspiration behind the design?

I’ve always really loved newspapers, their tactile quality, that crappy paper. Newspapers are on their way out. I like dying media. They have a poignancy that I don’t find in things like Twitter. But maybe when Twitter is dying maybe the last Tweet will be the saddest thing we’ve heard for years. The last daily newspaper we can buy will be an impossibly sad thing. So I wanted to use the format of a newspaper because a newspaper doesn’t pretend to be anything other than of the moment. Because a newspaper is so ephemeral that if you leave it out in the sunlight it will decay and go yellow and if you leave it out long enough there will be nothing left. (For this album) I wanted to make the opposite of an archival quality coffee table book. No future.

What’s Thom Yorke like? Is he quite serious? I read that when you collaborate one of you does something then the other destroys it. Then you mend it back and forth.

It depends on the time of day. We get on very well. We haven’t had an argument yet in twenty years. We just destroy each other’s work and then keep working at it. Keep battling until you get to the point where the conflict is resolved and that’s the end.  We both like it after a lot of toing and froing.

Do you find English weather and temperament inspirational or limiting? 

I don’t know. It’s an interesting idea. My dad always said the reason why the industrial revolution happened in England was because it’s so miserable that people are just desperate for something to do… There’s something about the pessimism that when I’m not here after a while I miss it. I really like the Mediterranean and California, places where it’s sunny and nice. You can do nothing (there.) I love it. Essentially I’m extremely lazy. Something in the appalling weather in this country forces me to go do something… to keep warm, half the time.

I agree. I’m so much happier in warm weather, but it’s hard getting anything done.

Exactly! But what’s the point of getting anything done? It’s natural to not do anything.

I thought, I’ve got some books in my head; I should go somewhere cold.

If you want to be miserable, go to Scandanavia. (He jokes) I’ve got this weird fascination with Scandinavia, places like Sweden, Norway and Iceland. I’ve never been but I’d like to go. Just to see what would happen. I’m really interested in snow, whiteness, and the idea of where the land and the sky blurs. Like when you’re on a boat and there’s really bad weather and you can’t see what’s the sky and what’s the sea. I imagine it’s like that in Northern latitudes. Is that snow falling or settling? It correlates with your mind. You don’t know what’s up or what’s down, what’s far or what’s near.

Is bleakness required for good art?

No, though I see what you’re saying. I really like the Aboriginal art that is done in a very bright, sunny environment, and all those dots and dream paintings. That very colourful style of painting. You also get that with the French Impressionists when they were down in the Southern regions of France…and the Fauves, they were called Wild Beasts. I didn’t quite understand it until I went down to some of the towns where the Fauves were. They were doing this artwork that was very bright, messy and amazing.  I got there and after a few days I realized why you would make work like that because that’s how you feel. Bright, messy and amazing. There’s nothing wrong with that. I like that. Where I come from, artwork is more didactic.

To what extent does art history and political history inform what you’re doing now?

Probably a lot more than I think. Art history is something that I’m incredibly ignorant about.  I went to Art College but I was sufficiently arrogant to not go to any of the lectures about art history, little bastard. Since then I’ve started to learn about art history and political history. So I’ve read lots of books about it and it’s made me realize how little I actually know. The certainties I held when I was 20 are now uncertainties at the best, vagrancies at the worst.  Vague ideas.

There is a lot of writing on your website. Do you spend more time writing or doing visual art?

There is some kind of weird lock in my brain if I can’t work visually. I spend a lot of nights not being able to think then I start thinking I’m really shit, I should stop and get a job. That’s when I’m really low.  I can’t do any visual artwork and that’s when I write, usually quite late at night.  Then the other thing happens. I think what I’ve written is atrocious and despicable. Then I start doing artwork again. I can’t do the two at the same time. It’s impossible. It’s over a couple of weeks. One will fail and then one will emerge.  Writing particularly is like drawing fish hooks out of your throat. It’s horrible. But necessary. Because you can’t leave them there.

Interview by Margo Fortuny. Exit Magazine, Spring/Summer 2011

Check out Donwood's new J.G. Ballard-inspired exhibition 'Dream Cargo' at the Lawrence Alkin Gallery in London through April 25th, 2015. 

Kindness of Women, Stanley Donwood, 2015

Faber & Faber have recently published several books by Stanley Donwood, which can be found here. 

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Pop Stars & Street Style: An Interview with Jeremy Scott

Jeremy Scott x Adidas Spring/Summer 2014

Spring/summer 2015 casual footwear

A recent Barbie-inspired collection for Moschino

In addition to designing for his own label and his collaborating with adidas, Jeremy Scott is currently Moschino’s Creative Director. Here’s one of my interviews with him, where we discuss Tokyo street style, 90's looks, and inspiration. (This was before Peak Beard in London…you’ll see what I mean if you read on.)

Exit Magazine, 2009

Jeremy Scott x adidas Autumn/Winter 2009


During London Fashion Week, I hung out with the effervescent Jeremy Scott in the Adidas ObyO Pop Up Shop at 6 Newburg Street. We talked about Tokyo versus London, the exposure of the underground, Lady Gaga, and Jeremy’s colourful collection for Adidas. The Autumn/Winter 09 collection is a playful homage to 90s African influences in pop culture, mixed with safari imagery. Photographs of the new collection have galvanized the online community to discuss, buy, or freak out over Jeremy’s unique designs. EXIT investigates why.

You take a lot of fashion risks. Is that intentional or is it the shock of the new? Is it your way of being mind expanding?

Well I definitely think it’s important to always expand one’s mind and to try to do that as a designer, to try to open people’s imagination and make them think differently about something. (When it comes to ObyO trainers) there are wings sprouting from the shoe or three tongues per shoe but at the same time I just made it because I think it’s beautiful. So it’s not just done in a purely provocative sense.

What city right now is taking the most fashion risks?

Well you know Tokyo is on its own planet. The kids there are doing the most elaborate and unexpected combinations. London in general is a much more youthful fashionable city, compared to New York. London has a lot more fun young fashion. But for very extreme looks, Tokyo is still winning that race.

Is it like just in the book Fruits?

Yeah, it’s the new generation of Fruits. Tokyo is amazing compared to New York or anywhere else. I don’t know about London because I don’t spend as much time here, but I know people are definitely a lot more into eccentric looks. You know in New York, if you grew a beard some dude on the street might shout, “Yo what is THAT? What you wearing?” and they have this liberty, they can just tell you about it. But in Tokyo no one looks at you or talks to you about it at all. And so the first trip I went there I just kept pushing it more and more everyday. I thought, I’m going to make you talk to me. I had a racoon tail and I hooked it into the back of my pants so I had this tail swinging around and I couldn’t catch people’s eye for the life of me, cause they just won’t stare. Obviously no one was laughing or sniggering or pointing. It is such a wildly liberating feeling of I can wear whatever I want and do anything I want. And especially if there’s two people there, two boys, two girls, girl and boy, they both decide “oh we’re gonna wear clown shoes and big clown glasses” or something like that and they have their own trend and they just walk around together. They’re in their own world and think “yeah of course everyone should have a bowtie this big…” It’s inspiring it really is. And it’s how everything goes at the same time, how they look at the way American or European culture is and the way they’ve appropriated it makes you look at it in a different way. Not even the exciting aspects of visual culture, it’s things we might think are mundane and boring. They’ve rendered it totally different because of how they’ve curated it. It’s amusing, ‘cause you see it through their eyes. It’s very fascinating.

Your new Adidas O by O collection has a lot of 90’s hip hop shapes and African patterns. What was your inspiration behind the collection?

I did think about Africa as my kind of inspiration and ideas.  You see these documentaries on TV and people will be wearing these clothes from Europe, kind of thrift store vintage sports wear but then they mix it with their sarongs and loincloths and beaded things and jewellery that they’d made.  I wanted to take this idea of African sports wear and create my own version, taking elements of the visuals in these documentaries then do it with sportswear fabrics. I developed these hybrid styles, and at the same time I was inspired by early 90s culture like Dwayne Wayne and A Different World.

How much sleep do you get? I’ve read that Noam Chomsky and Tom Ford get about four hours sleep a night and I was wondering if there was a prerequisite minimum amount of sleep for success.

There are times that four hours has been regular, probably six on average.

Do you have a favourite Lady Gaga costume?

I love the yellow one in the Paparazzi video. It comes directly from the show. I made it especially for her as a jumpsuit. When it was revealed she went with it so far with the glasses and everything that it became iconic in the video.

Who is someone you’d like to dress?

Dolly Parton. But in a way I kind of want to leave her alone because she’s so great. It’s a Catch 22; like I love you so much but maybe I shouldn’t bother you.

What do you think of underground versus popular culture?

I think they both lend things to each other and nowadays there’s more exposure to the underground than ever before, because of the way information is transferred everyone kind of knows everything. In this way there’s no real room for incubation, for things to be underground as in the past. I’m a pop artist so I’m all about pop culture and being as inclusive as I can be. At the same time, my work is provocative, challenging and out of the ordinary so it’s a new combination.  In a way, it is underground and aboveground. I definitely love niche culture and the history of it from different periods and different times. The underground is important but at the same time I love and have always loved pop culture.

Words and interview by Margo Fortuny

Exit Magazine, 2009

One of Jeremy Scott's inspirations (2Pac stars in this episode):