Books / Features / Music

Stanley Donwood: There Will Be No Quiet [Book Review]

While my love for Radiohead evolved first, it was the striking artwork that accompanied their third album OK Computer, by Stanley Donwood, that planted a seed of admiration firmly into my head for the artist. While he had previously designed the My Iron Lung EP art in 1994, that would just be the start of a long-standing association with the band and, in my opinion, they’ve become equally iconic in the world of music and art.

This new book, Stanley Donwood: There Will Be No Quiet, out now from Thames & Hudson, is by Donwood and it’s a wonderfully in-depth and fascinating celebration of his 23-year career so far, and I’m more than convinced that any fan of his work will revel in this reflective and revealing retrospective.

Setting us up in a distinctly labelled chronological order, this is a genuinely perceptive book where each chapter is dedicated to major works and delves deep down into the processes. Opening with an entertaining foreword, or ‘interface’ from Thom Yorke, he tells us the story of how they met, his views on his friend and how fax machines were a much more exciting way of communicating than email is now. There’s a small insight here to the world of the music and chaos of a band but Thom is just giving us the teaser clips and there’s a lot more to come.

There Will Be No Quiet does contain momentary nostalgia for the times gone by but, after all, this is a journey into the years before the big time and it’s more about the places we go with him that holds the interest. Donwood has a unique knack of sharing facts about things I simply didn’t know, nuclear weapons and the London Mithraeum to name two, and also I discovered a personal connection due to having also grown up in and around the Westcountry. Donwood mentions the likes of Exeter, Bath and Plymouth and the latter evoked childhood memories of the dark streets of a decaying city. You get an early look into the mind of a growing artist and how all his surroundings influenced the outcomes.

This isn’t just about ‘creating the art’ though as Stanley also shares his fears and whilst it’s deftly captivating, there’s no doubt of the disturbing nature of where his head took him in his past. He talks of his demon encounters, of a literal sense but in his mind, and they’re terrifying but we also following the white rabbit back to the light, instead of continuing down into the dark. His work through his art becomes his solace, those weeping figures and crying Minotaur’s you’ve seen on the Radiohead albums are all part of the escape of his psychosis but, very much, in a ‘release’ sense.

Make no bones about it, There Will Be No Quiet is as much a descriptive journey as it is a visual one. There are important notes on encouraging your kids to express themselves, from when they’re young and I agree, it develops the mind. He takes us through his experiences of Art College and moving into the ‘real’ world, how the very nature of art itself has changed and its accessibility. This is in a sense of what we consider, what’s original or not (in some ways nothing is original as everything is influenced by something before it but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a new path inside of it) and so forth. Why is this important to mention, you ask? Because every piece of art he creates is part of that thought experience.

This is what stood out to me, dare I say over other ‘coffee table’ books, the sheer level of detail is extraordinary. Many similar releases simply re-share the art, but you don’t get that breakdown of specific influences, responses and general viewpoints. This makes it an extensive and comprehensive guide to his entire career – so far. It wouldn’t be peculiar to consider Donwood as one of the most significant visual artists of my generation. His work has a life of itself outside of the music association, which is why it’s particularly important.

There Will Be No Quiet shares life through endless varieties of aesthetics, from painting to lithograph work, a very mixed-media approach with oils, computers, new digital techniques and beyond. In fact, he was one of us who made websites in the early days of the web, when it was all positive and possible, rather than where it ‘seems’ it’s going but, POSITIVES, Stanley still runs his website (slowlydownward.com) and you can read about the early progression of his work on the Radiohead website and his time with Thom. It’s a feast of exploration.

While Donwood mentions he omitted many personal details, it doesn’t exactly seem like that’s true because there’s a long-trek through the peaks and valleys of his life, through the dark, distant fears of the mind and how he struggled with mental-health issues at various points in his life. That being said, it’s also done in a way that connects his art outcomes back to reality, so even when it delves in and out of consciousness, it’s a beautiful adventure. He’s a true artist, discovering, forgetting, re-learning and sparking the grey matter to share new ideas in moments of true inspiration.

This book is vast in vision, shared and expanded throughout by Donwood. It’s also particularly exciting to hear about how collaboration between him and the band always pulls together at the right time. So as watch them both continue to hit creative peaks, their unique ability to invent keeps converging and entwining, like waves from a stormy ocean hitting the shoreline and connecting, pulling and integrating with the sand and the land on a constant loop.

Donwood comments that the book exists due to the death of his Mother and, you know Stanley, she would be utterly proud of you. Of that, I have no doubt. This is immense work and you’ve got an even more impressive body of work that’ll stand the test of time.

Stanley Donwood: There Will Be No Quiet is out now from Thames & Hudson

Order here: https://amzn.to/2OjkLHG

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