Stanley Donwood’s Sacred Cartography reinterprets Britain’s historic landscapes


The show is a culmination of the British artist’s studies of British Ordnance Survey maps, and features a series of screenprints based on this research. Donwood, who is known for his collaborations with musician Thom Yorke and Radiohead, began altering these maps to remove any traces of urban development, including motorways, industrial estates and houses.

In doing so, he slowly uncovered the only surviving remnants of communities and cultures that came long before us, such as the burial mounds and barrows, the stone circles and earthworks, and the very oldest trackways that wind their way quietly through the maps, often overshadowed by modern landmarks and infrastructure.

Waylands Smithy

Left with only the most ancient markings, Donwood used these as reference points for a series of paintings that he exhibited at Saatchi Gallery earlier this year, and which went on to inform the screenprints featured in Sacred Cartography. These artworks merge cartographical and topographical forms to create colourful, abstract compositions that speak to an older understanding of the British landscape.

Accompanying the hilltops, grave-mounds and corpse-paths that form defining references within the paintings, are also black and brooding skies. Donwood says this aspect of the artworks was inspired by his fascination with the relationship between land and sky.

“Rather than seeing the land and the sky as separate, I saw them as two halves of the same interconnected whole,” says Donwood. “The idea is that the land and the heavens are intimately connected, both physically, through transpiration and evaporation and precipitation, but also in other, hidden, mysterious ways. It’s not for nothing that people have always worshipped the skies, that our gods dwell above us.”

Sacred Cartography is on display at Jealous Gallery until December 23;