Last Act

Dark Mountain: Issue 7, our beautiful new collection of uncivilised writing and art, is now available. The cover is taken from a screenprint by artist and writer Stanley Donwood – whose story ‘Culture of Entitlement’ also closes the book – and this week we asked him to write something about how and why he found himself on the Dark Mountain.
is an artist and writer, whose graphic and illustrative work on Radiohead’s albums and associated artwork has gained him worldwide recognition.


I’m at the theatre, and this plot, it’s really hard to swallow. It’s about the future  and it’s set in the present day  and the basic premise is that we can all just carry on just as we are. Driving to the supermarket, buying a flat-screen TV, mowing the lawn, whatever, yada yada. And we can export this enviable lifestyle, where we all live like Louis XVI, to the whole world. Except for a servile underclass who manufacture all the stuff we consume, everything from snacks to computers to the vehicles we use to truck these things around. The idea is that essentially we’ve created a stable sediment for ourselves to wallow in. It’s so obviously a deranged fantasy. Whoever wrote this is having a laugh.

However; I continually attempt to suspend my disbelief, to ignore the proscenium arch, to just watch the play, to enjoy the thing, and to ignore the fact that around me the building is crumbling, the theatre company is bankrupt, the actors are dropping like flies, screaming their lines in a terrible anguish and the audience  all around me  are animated, drooling, fleshless cadavers, applauding, laughing, crying. And I applaud, and I laugh, and I cry.


As I sit here, buds are bursting, roots are probing; the sun is out, new-born leaves move in zephyrs of air, and somewhere there is a bird making a noise that sounds like someone manually inflating an air-bed. Children are playing in the street outside; it is a vampire game. One of them feigns sleep for a while, whilst the others venture near to check if the eyes are open or shut. If they open, and you are close, then it’s likely that you will join the ranks of the undead. Sometimes things go wrong and there are screams of anger. Sometimes a car alarm goes off, and sometimes the siren of some emergency vehicle echoes around the valley. Occasionally a police helicopter whips around above, doing whatever the fuck it is that they do up there. More occasionally a military jet screams over. The passenger planes are ubiquitous now; no-one really notices them. It’s spring, at last, and the sky is often blue and there’s a general feeling that the worst is over.

Although to believe that the worst is over, to believe that things will be okay  that takes a real effort of mental will. Because it isn’t over, and it won’t be okay. The only people who you can find that believe that we can continue on this path of perpetual economic growth, of permanent extraction of fossil fuels, of insanely unsustainable suburbanisation; they’re all fucking crazy! I mean, actually insane. What’s harder to understand are the corporate stooges, the political marionettes, the ones who are just saying it for the dollars. What are those people going to do with the payola? Join the elite? Earn the right to be the last to starve?


Because of what I do I am sometimes interviewed, and as with any conversation this can go badly or it can go well. One question that seems to recur is quite a simple-seeming query, but I find it hard to answer. It’s along the lines of  why is your work so depressing and/or miserable and/or dystopian and/or apocalyptic? Sometimes I skirt around it, often fixing on the word ‘apocalyptic’ and explaining that the apocalypse isn’t exactly what they think it is, not exactly. Other times I pretend that it’s some sort of cathartic auto-therapy, that I’m a fine example of mental health, not despite but because of all this depressing/miserable/dystopian/‘apocalyptic’ artwork on the walls. But the honest answer is  why do you fucking think? Look around you, you’re not blind.

So yes, right. Spring is here, the birds are singing, or perhaps that’s actually a car alarm. Anyway, the worst is over. So me? I’m going to keep drawing, keep painting, like some fucking monkey in a cage, hooting at the bars, throwing shit, pacing aimlessly, rocking backward and forward for hours, clapping, laughing, crying. Enjoy the interval. Last act’s soon.


Image: Hole by Stanley Donwood.

This is a drawing from a series called ‘Modernland’. The Modernland project itself is a natural and political history of an imagined ‘European’ country. It is partly reminiscent of a postwar Eastern European nation state, but one that might have existed had there been no Second World War, and one in which authoritarianism had been taken to its ultimate position, and the entire population had been ‘resettled’ elsewhere. At the same time, the resources of the country have been utterly and ruthlessly plundered. It is inhabited only by the shadows of ghosts.

You’ll find more where this came from in our latest book. 


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