Artist and writer Stanley Donwood is best known for his 18-year collaboration with experimental art-rockers Radiohead.

Donwood has designed all the band’s album covers and packaging since 1994’s The Bends, having met frontman Thom Yorke while a student at the University of Exeter, and won a Grammy for best recording package with 2002’s Amnesiac.

But he also has a parallel career as a writer, having released a series of short stories, and was behind a short-lived record label Six Inch Records, which closed in 2009.

Now Donwood is returning to ink_d, which hosted an exhibition of his work in 2009 entitled Printed Papers.

Notorious for avoiding the limelight, Donwood communicated his thoughts to The Guide by email ahead of the opening of Occupational Hazard.

You were last at ink_d in 2009 with Printed Papers. How is Occupational Hazard different?

“It’s almost all work I’ve made since the last show and mostly work from editions that have virtually sold out. There are also some paintings from a series I made, which were about worshipping Ventolin inhalers and the biggest drawing I’ve yet done. 2009 was ages ago. I hardly recognise the person I was then; or maybe I just can’t remember.”

“Mild peril” plays a big part in these new works – what attracted you to that phrase normally found on children’s DVDs?

“I was going to call the show Contains Mild Peril but I thought Occupational Hazard was more appropriate.

“I very much like the idea of mild peril, as opposed to relentless unending torment. My favourite warning on films is that some of them contain ‘language’. It’s like a strange code, where ‘adult’ means sexually graphic and ‘family’ means sickeningly saccharine.

“I’m not even sure what mild peril is supposed to be. Is it like stubbing your toe, or is it worse, like getting your penis trapped in a zip? Or is it not actually painful but just a little frightening?

“Some people have pointed out that my work seems to have some kind of depressive, apocalyptic tone to it. But it doesn’t actually hurt anyone except me.”

How closely do you work with Radiohead on the imagery you use for each album? How much is the resulting album influenced by your imagery and vice versa?

“This remains a difficult question to answer, as it’s a process that has evolved over a long period and it’s something I find hard to explain.

“It’s either a symbiotic relationship, where my work and the band’s reflect and interact, or, as I suspect, an entirely parasitical affair where I filch visual ideas from their music and just draw or paint it.

“It’s maybe a little like writing poetry; if you inquire and analyse, you obscure or destroy what it is that you are doing.”

Much has been made of music going digital meaning the death of album artwork. Do you think recorded music and packaging artwork should be closely interlinked?

“I don’t think that they necessarily should be but it’s perhaps true that music students and art students are kind of similar, and that you often find them at the same kinds of parties.

“I learned about music by going to record shops and buying records based on whether I liked the covers or not (a method which worked amazingly well) and I spent many hours examining record sleeves and trying to figure out what everything meant.

“In my case, the visual identity of a band became very closely interlinked with the music, and I thought the association was poetic and inspiring.

“Having said that, I think music can do without art just fine.”

The figure on the front of Thom Yorke’s Radiohead album was recreated using human figures on Hove Lawns as part of international art project Earth 350. As an artist known for keeping a low profile, was it hard dealing with so many people en masse?

“That was very, very little to do with me. I wanted to carve the figure of Cnut into the chalk on the rabbit-nibbled turf above Beachy Head, but time and logistics and, I believe, the National Trust got in the way of that.

“Should all art have a message? Of course not. I enjoy a picture of a little kitten as much as the next person.”

There is a playfulness and subversion present in much of your work – do you find the art world takes itself too seriously sometimes?

“We all take ourselves too seriously, especially men.”

Like many artists you have lived through a digital revolution. How much do you try to embrace new technology?

“Computers have been hugely useful and the appearance of the internet has been a truly amazing event. I was definitely an ‘early adopter’ of both. I thought the combination of cheap computers and the internet were going to revolutionise society, just as the printing press had done much to sweep away the feudal Medieval period. I thought the internet would reveal late-period Western capitalism to be a chimera.

“Instead, it has taken a global financial crisis to do that, and the internet has become a giant shopping mall. Although you could argue that the internet made the sort of financial trading that caused the second Great Depression possible.

“We shouldn’t forget the internet was a military invention and that our ‘smartphones’ are essentially tracking devices that allow us to make calls.

“Technology can free us but it can also enslave us. No one should embrace technology without a great deal of suspicion. Don’t get into a stranger’s car.”

  • Stanley Donwood: Occupational Hazard is at ink_d, North Road, Brighton, until Sunday, December 2. The free exhibition is open Mon to Sat 10am to 6pm, Sun noon to 4pm. Call 01273 645299