The genius of Ralph Steadman can be found in the more than 50 books he’s written or illustrated (or both written and illustrated), in his famous partnership with Hunter Thompson and the creation of Gonzo journalism—the two not just covering a story but becoming it. “Bats over Barstow,” reproduced here, is one of his drawings from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Steadman’s creative brilliance shines in the lyrics he wrote for Richard Harvey’s oratorio Plague and the Moonflower, in the songs he’s written and recorded, and in a wide range of artistic expressions–from beer bottle labels, to British postage stamps, to diverse theater sets, including one for the Royal Opera House production of a ballet of The Crucible. But most of all, Steadman’s genius is manifested in his scathing, scurrilous, occasionally scatological, always over the top, visual assaults on corrupt, authoritarian, and stupid politicians, and in his protest of social unfairness.
You may be as surprised as I was to discover when I had the privilege of interviewing this savage satirist, that Ralph Steadman is a gentle, soft-spoken, utterly decent man. Less surprising were his observations and insights into the horrors of America and what he calls its “screaming lifestyle.” Consider this prescient 1975 drawing of a mob of police beating some poor soul–a scene that is sadly ubiquitous across the country nearly half century later:
Or how, with subtle alteration, he exposes a hidden malevolence–specifically the corporate greed and manipulation behind the oversized, ostensibly benign and child-beloved cartoon figures at Disneyland. From their unhappy faces, the kids, unlike their dollar-drained parents, are not taken in.
Enjoy many more examples of Steadman’s art in this video interview, and especially the story of how the boy Steadman, inspired by a fifty cent used copy of Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebooks, was able through hard work and “taking pains,” to turn early failure into great success.
Please check out The Writer’s Brush: Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture by Writers for more than 400 plates of artwork by great writers and the stories behind them.
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