Donwood’s cover for Radiohead’s seminal fourth album Kid A (2000) –followed just months later by Amnesiac (2001), whose special edition package won him and Yorke won a Grammy Award – remains one of his most iconic creations. Featuring jagged, digitally-stretched white mountain peaks before an ominous sky, it spoke powerfully to the anxieties of a new millennium, not to mention the vertigo of the band themselves, who had struggled to navigate the enormous success that followed OK Computer (1997).
As is typical of their joint creative process, Donwood holed up with Radiohead during the writing and recording of Kid A, building his work around the album’s developing mood, Yorke’s lyrics and the studio location. He had dark things on his mind, including news images of the ongoing conflict in former Yugoslavia, death tolls measured by ‘swimming pools filled with blood’ in a book by Alan Moore, and the gibbeted crows he saw in the fields around the empty Gloucestershire mansion where the band were staying. These motifs all found their way into his work, which he later reflected ‘was about some sort of cataclysmic power existing in landscape.’
The project’s haunting mountains, lakes and valleys exhibit the strong sense of place that runs throughout Donwood’s practice, from OK Computer’s nightmare suburbia to the woodland mysticism of The King of Limbs (2011); for Amnesiac, he would re-imagine the mythical Minotaur as a pitiful, weeping figure, representing a monstrous humanity lost in labyrinth of its own creation.
Along with countless sketches, Donwood’s primary work for Kid A took the form of large, atmospheric canvases — six of which are offered in First Open: Post-War and Contemporary Art Online —scored and slashed to form fierce fields of texture and colour. Photographs of these paintings were later scanned and draped over 3D topographies in a computer programme, creating new, digital landscapes that could themselves be virtually explored. Recorded excursions into these experimental spaces — further blurred and hybridised with the original scans — would lead to the final cover. ‘I had not seen anything like what we were making before,’ remembered Donwood, ‘but these were very strange and disturbing times.’