'You’d wake up in the morning and trying to just capture something before it fades away,' Stanley explains. 'The dream thing was a key communicated between both of us then. It was like a way in, for want of anything,' Thom agrees. 'It was really just a nice place to start on stuff.'
Radiohead vocalist Thom Yorke and artist Stanley Donwood first met in the 1980s as students at Exeter University and have created art together ever since. Donwood has created the cover art for all of Radiohead's ground-breaking albums since The Bends in 1996.
Presented by TIN MAN ART, TEST SPECIMENS brings together 60 works on paper the pair created in 1999-2001, whilst also working on the iconic turn of the millennium albums Kid A (2000) and Amnesiac (2001).
Thom Yorke and Stanley Donwood never worked together in an obvious way. Instead, they created a different way of thinking about creativity. Two people producing in tandem with each working concurrently and constantly bouncing images and ideas between them - pages torn from sketchbooks shared via fax (in 1999, the internet and emails were still in their infancy). Their drawings, which feed into record covers and Radiohead's expanded website and visual material, are more like diptychs than duets.
Fragments of text and unfinished images is an ongoing trope in both their works, scrawled attempts to capture energy, emotion and thought. "I think we both trying to loosen each other up in different ways," Yorke says. "There was just a lot of work. A lot of to and fro. A lot of sifting around the same things again and again until something spoke."
The pair have avariety of aesthetic approaches, even within their own works. At that turn of the century point, Donwood was fusing influences from Robert Crumb and underground 1960s comics with Piranesi and architectural drawing. Yorke was fascinated with the irreverence of the Chapman Brothers and collage approach of the Beta Band. Both namecheck Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer, two artists using text in bold and demanding ways, as strong influences.
Their drawings are largely black and white, something that shifts when the pair work on album imagery - these drawings are works in progress, moments in time. A lot of the drawings came from their respective dreams. "You'd wake up in the morning and trying to just capture something before it fades away," Stanley explains. "The dream thing was a key communicated between both of us then. It was like a way in, for want of anything," Thom agrees. "It was really just a nice place to start on stuff."
This has led to images such as Self-portrait with Spiders (Thom Yorke), depictions of stalagmites and stalactites in a hallway, vampiric bears or the Balkan war. The aim was to draw things to make them go away. The works were all made in the period after the Radiohead albums OK Computer was released and Kid A was being recorded, a moment of personal upheaval, and there is something intimate about peering into their minds through these drawings.
Music, or rather the expanded audience and spaces where music was promoted and experienced, was a way for Yorke and Donwood to communicate their ideas. Both were against the pretensions of the art world and focusing on a very different mass audience. "What I was wanting to do at the time was utilise Radiohead's fame as a canvas to put our ideas as big as possible in as many people's faces as possible. Using the record shop as a democratic Art Gallery and advertising hoardings as basically propaganda spaces," Donwood explains.
A lot of the work is quite violent and scratchy. It is fed by nightmares, mental unrest, politics and discomfort. Yet both their works also contain elements of humour, cuteness and beauty. As Francesca Gavin notes in her essay for the exhibition catalogue, this is what makes these drawings still resonate 20 years later - the tension between pleasure and discomfort.
The exhibition is curated by Siobhan Andrews Kapoor:
"TEST SPECIMENS offers an extraordinary, intimate glimpse into the minds of these creative geniuses at a pivotal moment in British cultural history. For us the viewers, it's a privilege to be let behind the scenes and explore this fantastical world for ourselves."
The artists are represented by TIN MAN ART, founded by James Elwes:
'We're opening the pages of Thom and Stanley's sketchbooks to the public for the first time, following the frenzy of interest over the exhibition of works associated with Kid A and Amnesiac at Christie's during Frieze week last year. These pieces were made at a time of war and political upheaval, strangely enough mirrored by today's tinderbox climate, making the timing particularly poignant. The message holds true: humanity can be chaotic and cruel, but art, collaboration and invention can shine a light in any darkness.'
TEST SPECIMENS, presented by TIN MAN ART, is at 8 Duke Street, St James's, London SW1Y 6BN
Public Opening Hours (advance booking required):
Weds 25th May, 10am - 6pm
Thurs 26th May, 10am - 6pm
Fri 27th May, 10am - 6pm
Sat 28th May, 10am - 6pm
Sun 29th May, 11am - 4pm
To request a price list please email us.
To book please follow this link: https://artsvp.co/32334e