The Fax Men

By Jo Phillips

Creative collaboration is a wonderful thing, a flow of ideas, when two or more minds come together the end result more often than not, feels like it has added fascination than a singular view. We see this often in bands when several members create music together or writing partners in a book or film script. But what happens if you and your collaborator are miles away even countries apart? If we told you a fax machine may well play a part you may be a little perplexed. Worry not we will fill you in here in The fax Men.

Image left, Thom Yorke I froze Up

So what do the 90’s, Radiohead’s Thom York alongside Artist Stanley Donwood have in common? A fax machine. This is where a great creative collaboration started and grew over 30 odd years, even though the fax machine is no longer an integral part of this particular journey.

Thom York and Stanley Donwood were art students together at Exeter University in the 19080s. Each with their own vision almost as a curative program, to almost exercise ideas and thoughts some unhappy, frightening but also much humour out of both respective heads. In a back and forth artworks and ideas went as one travelled in the world of pop, a fax machine was their choice of communication to explore each other’s creative worlds.

Furnace Thom Yorke

One would draw and fax to the other and this process went on and it was from the almost ‘love letters’ back and forth that much work for the album covers for Radiohead was born.

I saw the sky turn green Thom Yorke Left, After salvator rosa, Stanley Donwood

Stanley worked on all the band’s artworks from the seminal album The Bends onwards. The two still continue to produce ideas and work together (maybe more via email now) and finally there is an exhibition that brings together pages from each of their scrapbooks because sadly the fax’s have long ago faded

But because both were in the habit from art school of carrying notebooks the dialogue was preserved but also the vehicle for sharing ideas.

Weird Weather Thom Yorke, left Hostile Takeover Stanley Donwood

Presented by Tin Man art the show Test Specimens brings together 60 works on paper the pair created in 1999-2001, whilst also working on the iconic turn of the millennium albums Kid A (2000) and Amnesiac (2001).

Presented as pairs, one from each artist in subject matter the walls of the gallery are adorned with small A5 mainly images. Many drawn with black pen a few in colour or pencils the images are guttural sometimes even painful to view.

Erase your mistakes Thom Yorke left, See no evil right Stanley Donwood

Both play often with imagery but words are also incorporated and it is this little link that brings in many ways the tie between the two, one primarily a ‘wordsmith’ and the other primarily a ‘penman’ so the back and forth hints at a language almost of their own. A connection deep in the very emotional creative drive of the pair.

The works are sometimes political, sometimes social commentary, but peer a little more and feel the pain and pressure both were under at a time of great success, and see struggle, see frustration and of course dark humour and laughter. The building of two careers, expanding publically in the growing limelight; a very exposed way to grow. Within these very textual works, there are growing pain, frustration, love and fear almost exorcised on the page, etched away in sometimes almost scrawl like documentation.

The exhibition is more than personal it’s like looking at two creative souls who had their own personal way of communication that has been then hung bare on the walls for all to see. Lucky we do get to share in this most intense of private worlds.

Success at last Stanley Donwood

Notice the absolute links to all of Radiohead’s visual works but also it’s almost as if you can hear the songs as you pass each image, so open and honest are the pictures. Memes noticeable from the journey of the band stare back at you whilst self-portraits ‘scare’ back at you.

The exhibition is curated by Siobhan Andrews Kapoor and she says of it:-

TEST SPECIMENS offers an extraordinary, intimate glimpse into the minds of these creative geniuses at a pivotal moment in British cultural history. For us the viewers, it’s a privilege to be let behind the scenes and explore this fantastical world for ourselves.”

The only sad point is the exhibition goes on for only five days from Weds 25th May to Sun 29th May. However, the opening up of interest in Music and art collaboration is only going to become more important and valuable as time goes on for the very reason it brings both more alive more personal and therefore far more powerful.

TEST SPECIMENS is presented by TIN MAN ART 8 Duke Street St James, London SW1Y 6BN To book or to make enquiries please visit:

If you enjoyed reading The Fax Men then why not read A colourful Circus Here

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