Notoriously reclusive, Stanley Donwood doesn't pander to the disingenuous media trend for grandeur, and like many intelligent creatives operating in such a conceited sphere, cannot resist underselling himself.
Stanley's art veers from propagandist graphics to introspective illustrations, but a consistent strength is its combination of deep personal and political emotions with modesty and humour; weighty subjects are examined not entirely seriously but certainly respectfully. The powerful visual identity he has created for the band Radiohead is considered so in tune with Thom Yorke's music that the debate still rages as to whether he and Yorke are one and the same, despite the pair accepting their 2001 Grammy Award for best packaging (a limited edition of Amnesiac) together.
The Minotaur group show, held in the murky depths of Waterloo Station, saw Stanley construct a black and red labyrinth called Mithras Tauroctonos Subterranea which consisted of tunnels plastered in 900 propagandist posters. Previously he had put on a show titled Red Maze at the Schunk Museum whereby he'd recreated the myth of the Minotaur's labyrinth using red thread, looming entranceways and dilapidated iron and plywood walls. The labyrinth represents the ordered chaos human mind, logical to the creator but seemingly inane to everyone else.
When Red Maze closed, Donwood encouraged a spree of charitable looting. By emptying the contents of the gallery into the pockets of looters, the artist was making a statement about "cultural cleansing". Donations went towards the rebuilding of the museum in Kabul, previously looted by the Taliban.
On a more contained scale, Far Away is Close at Hand in Images of Elsewhere, shown at The Outsiders London in September 2013, showcases Stanley's prints as well as ambitious ink and pencil pieces featuring hidden country footpaths, known as Holloways, and other arboreal scenes. Inspired by the majesty of nature, Donwood's Holloways are eerie, all the more eerie now they've been cut down – removed like the piece of graffiti which inspired the title of this collection. Mysterious and melancholic, their botanical beauty inspires both awe and a liberating sense of feral mindfulness.
Stanley has also produced a body of work titled London Views, an apocalyptic panorama that stretches from the Thames estuary past the familiar structures of the Gherkin, Big Ben and Battersea Power Station. Carved on linoleum, the fourteen pieces create a mediavel-looking picture roughly twelve feet in length. Impossible to print using a press, the picture is hand-burnished on to Japanese Kozo paper.
In the summer of 2014 Stanley Donwood was revealed as the official artist of Glastonbury, providing imagery for t-shirts and newspapers since 2002. Nether, which depicts a tunnel of trees with a ball of light emanating through it was used as the festival's headline image in 2014. On the most superficial level, it is a nature painting with a deep sense of spirituality – two things with which the festival has long been synonymous but perhaps on a deeper level, the endangered Holloways echo the uncertain existence of the festival itself.
Stanley Donwood is an aficionado of printing techniques and an avid self-publisher of his own artworks and short stories. Faber's publication of his book Holloways in collaboration with Robert Macfarlane and Dan Richards made a bestseller's list. The book explores the journeys these three took down sunken paths, worn down by the traffic of the ages. The Guardian says "with Donwood's ghostly, Hansel and Gretel-esque illustrations peppering the prose, Holloway is undeniably a gorgeous package. Even though it takes less than half an hour to read, the subtle call to revel in the wonder of the natural world lasts much longer".
Stanley Donwood has also published Dead Children Playing, a picture book with Thom Yorke and Household Worms, a collection of darkly humorous short stories.