Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Great Gonzo: Ralph Steadman

The great gonzo journalist; Hunter S. Thompson made famous as much for his erratic behavior, drug abuse and bravado as he was for his craftsmanship of writing. He excelled with his prose but he did not work alone. His “criminal” partner was another equally talented, equally erratic, balistically bombastic and gloriously flamboyant artist; Ralph Steadman.

Steadman illustrated a number of Thompson works including most famously Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Curse of Lono and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72.  These are now classics; coveted by owners and selling to collectors for exorbitant prices. Orwell’s Animal Farm was published a few years ago in a limited 50th anniversary edition; and yes, Steadman brilliantly illustrated that master work too.

The art of Ralph Steadman is intriguing; bold and shocking with explosions of ideas, and unfettered recklessness. The colorful products of the hand and mind of the genius/madman; Steadman can equally amuse, shock and many times disturb. He recently designed a piece for Newsweek magazine. It was a response to the Charlie Hebdo murders. The article “The Right to Offend” written by Robert Chalmers features exerpts from a conversation between the two on satire, religion, terrorism and questions of artistic freedom and responsibility. It is highly recommended reading.

“Looking at what has happened in Paris, I now feel that I have succeeded. I did manage to change the world, and it is a worse place than when I started.”    
                                                                                                  Ralph Steadman

This comes at a time of extreme low for Steadman and all lovers of freedom (particularly lovers of satirical illustration and commentary.) I am not at all certain of Steadman’s observation of his life. He is as much a hero and inspiration to his supporters and admirers as he is in any way a detriment. He does what all great artists do he shows the world a particular truth and in  the moments we are engaged with his work we are distant from the pain of life as we see that same pain more clearly. 

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