Many know the name Hunter S. Thompson whereas the name Ralph Steadman is only recognizable to a few. That is too bad because this artist made quite a contribution to the legend that Hunter S. Thompson created. He, along with Thompson, was instrumental in the creation of Gonzo publications and is, unfortunately, the only one left alive today.
Director Charlie Paul (first film) takes a straightforward approach to the telling of Steadman’s story. Steadman is visited at his home by actor/musician Johnny Depp (starred in the Hunter S. Thompson inspired film – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) and they venture into his studio to just start talking about his career as an artist/cartoonist.
Steadman explains to Depp that with a lot of his art he starts with something in which he doesn’t know what it is and then as it progresses he knows. The great part is that he not only speaks of his process, but shows how he creates a lot of his art. Visuals and an actual demonstration really bring his unique creative process alive. His drawing technique is very different as he uses blowing, scraping and flicking of the paint. What he is looking to achieve with his work is the unexpected.
In 1969 the Brit had published the first book of his work. Most of his early work is cartoons. Humourous with a maniacal side. Steadman learned to draw because he needed it as a weapon. In other words much of his work has a political or critical slant to it. Cartooning to him meant more than just doing funny pictures; it meant changing things for the better.
Wanting a change of scenery, in 1970 he came to the United States and found a place to live in New York City. Shortly after the move he got a call to meet the author Hunter S. Thompson. They hit it off and made plans to go to the Kentucky Derby together. Thompson would write and Steadman would draw. This was the beginning of Gonzo. Things went to so well that Steadman was upset when he had to return to England to his conventional cartoon job.
Hunter called him in England and asked him to about a dozen drawings for his novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Next up was a trip to Zaire with Hunter to cover the Ali-Foreman fight, then Rhode Island to cover the America’s Cup in 1970, and another story and so on. Steadman would as Hunter “Why we doing this?” and the answer he got was “No good reason”. He admits that at times he felt mistreated by Hunter, but they remained friends until Hunter’s death.
Steadman would go to greater risks than Hunter in his work. He started contributing to Rolling Stone, even writing articles. Then he began writing a book about Leonardo Da Vinci. The book was written in the first person like he was Da Vinci. In the 1980s he began using Polaroid pictures in his work.
Despite all that he did and the effect he managed via his drawings many felt he had not proven himself as an artist. Is still thought of as only a cartoonist. The documentary goes a long way towards proving this is not the case and sheds light on a man woefully underappreciated.
-Toronto International Film Festival Q+A with Ralph Steadman and Charlie Paul
-Previews of Magic in the Moonlight, Land Ho!, Third Person, Only Lovers Left Alive, Jodorowsky’s Dune