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Thom Yorke and artist Stanley Donwood
Via YouTube/Radiohead

Thom Yorke and artist Stanley Donwood on creating Radiohead’s album covers

As the pair’s Kid A and Amnesiac artworks go up for auction, they reminisce about their first meeting and working together in a converted barn

Thom Yorke and Stanley Donwood, the longtime artistic collaborator of Radiohead, have unpacked their creative relationship in a new short film for Christie’s, as the auction house offers up several of Donwood’s Kid A-era paintings.

Filmed during a studio visit, the video (watch below) sees the band’s frontman reflect on their first meeting, as art students at the University of Exeter. “He was the guy at art college who could actually paint — they kicked me out,” Yorke says. “When I met him, first day, he sat there with a book, totally aloof. I thought, I’m either really going to hate this bloke or I’m going to end up working with him forever. One of the two.”

Luckily for us, Yorke and Donwood do look set to work together forever. Their partnership, beginning on 1995’s The Bends, has continued all the way through Radiohead’s career (as well as Yorke’s solo projects), even up to the band’s comically ill-fated TikTok debut.

“When we signed a record deal and first had to deal with the graphic designers and so on, I was like, I can’t cope with this,” Yorke explains, adding that he thought: “This is like a manufacturing business.”

Donwood continues the story, saying: “He phones up one time and said, ‘Do you wanna have a go at doing a record cover?’ And I thought yeah, I’ll have a go… It’s quite rare for a band to be as interested in their visual representation, as interested in the art that accompanies it.”

Running through his process in the short film for Christie’s, Donwood also speaks about the Kid A art’s inextricable link to Radiohead’s music, as the collaborators worked side-by-side in a converted barn. “I’m working on the artwork and what it will become, while they’re working on their music and what it will become,” he says. “I was just in this space where there was music happening all the time. I find it hard to look at these without hearing the music. It’s kind of in them. It’s encoded.”

Bits of Thom Yorke’s work are also included in some of the images, but they’re almost completely concealed by Donwood’s “visceral” painting. “He painted over them, I can’t understand why,” Yorke jokes.

Beginning today (October 9), six large-scale paintings that Donwood created for Kid A and Amnesiac are on display at Christie’s until October 15, with bidding open via the auction house’s First Open: Post War and Contemporary Art Online sale. “It will be really great that people can actually see this work,” says Donwood. “Because it will be the first time this work’s been able to be seen for what it is.”

“This is us speaking and this is how we see stuff,” adds Yorke. “I’m proud of this period because this period of work was when we found our voice through the artwork. It developed into something exciting, and something (that) wasn’t just for a record cover, it was way beyond that.”

Radiohead have also recently celebrated the 20th anniversaries of Kid A and Amnesiac with a reissue bundle titled Kid A Mnesia, which includes the album of previously-unreleased rarities Kid Amnesiae. Last month, Kid Amnesiae track “If You Say The Word” also received a sinister new music video.