Inspired by the limited color palette he noticed on L.A. billboards and the soul-sucking words that appear in spam email messages, Stanley Donwood makes paintings that are one part abstract color field and one part aggressive poetry, mixed with a dose of subliminal messaging. As the viewer's eyes dart around the fluid blocks of color in his work, the words are absorbed almost subconsciously -- much like the goal of most advertising. Donwood's current exhibition of paintings and prints at Fifty24SF Gallery is titled Over Normal.
Donwood is Radiohead's resident artist -- the creative force behind their album covers -- and you now have the opportunity to explore his style in depth for the first time on this side of the Atlantic. Though his work often seems to be a perfect fit for each of the band's memorable albums, the music does not always come before the art. He and Thom Yorke are old chums; they share a like-minded aesthetic and produced an art book together.
Collaborating with musician and physicist, John Matthias, Donwood made a sound installation for his San Francisco exhibition called the Overnormalizer that allows for a multi-sensory, mind-numbing experience if you wear the headphones while staring at the art. By isolating words and sounds associated with mass marketing, Donwood is attempting to send an overt reminder that we have little control over the information that enters our consciousness.
It is no surprise to find that Donwood is a writer. You can read his musings on his web site, SlowlyDownward.com. The way in which he molds random, gripping words into rhythmic lines and waves is reminiscent of the way a writer shapes an essay, though the paintings are calculated by shape and theme, rather than narrative. The chopped-up text has an overwhelming, "over normal" effect. The words aren't shocking; they are read passively like most of the text we're confronted with daily. In a recent interview, Donwood compared the paintings to remixed newspaper headlines and, fittingly, he also printed a limited edition, free newspaper for the show.
Photo: Patrick Kawahara
The text and color combinations possible in Donwood's paintings are limitless, and each one packs as much power as the next. As long as there is manipulative marketing in our faces, he'll have plenty of material. The show made me dream of a utopian world where ad space is given over to creative hands -- it would be interesting to see what kinds of subliminal messaging Stanley Donwood would transmit.
Over Normal is on view at Fifty24SF Gallery through October 27, 2010.