Wednesday 19 February 2020

BAD ISLAND by Stanley Donwood

Recalling how Earth looks like a marble from space, Bad Island (Hamish Hamilton) begins with a ball divided into three parts, recognisable as sea, earth and sky. Over eighty images, artist Stanley Donwood chronicles the evolution of a world, from the swirling lines of sea, the rising of land and the eventual formation of life. The stark monochromatic art resembling lino-cut prints are simple and emotive capturing the violence and harshness of nature, leading to the destruction mankind brings upon itself and the world. The book is called Bad Island for a reason; it feels like a restless dark spiral, punctuated with periods of equilibrium and symbiosis. On closer inspection, we find the presence of black shadow forms with tiny white eyes which are present in the early stages and in the end of days. Do they represent dark spirits, or the original sin that will always be the root of our undoing? Or maybe they are a reminder that all things will come to an end carrying us towards the cycle which returns the world to the state it was initially found in.

Having produced all the artwork for Radiohead’s albums, Stanley Donwood is adept at producing unsettling images and this book feels like an expression of frustration mankind’s natural instincts to destroy. While animals and birds feature, humans do not except for their buildings, bombs, war planes and industrial smoke filling the skies. There are however, two illustrations which feature the back of a naked bald-headed man as if he is spying on events, once on village huts, but also earlier due the Jurassic era. Is the Donwood inserting himself into proceedings as the chronicler?

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