Fear and Loathing in Pictures and Interviews
“What’s a gonzotic frenzy? Well it’s me in the throes of an ink splattering attempt to capture the feeling I have at that particular time.”
“Every now and then when your life gets complicated and the weasels start closing in, the only cure is to load up on heinous chemicals and then drive like a bastard from Hollywood to Las Vegas … with the music at top volume and at least a pint of ether.”
-Hunter S. Thompson (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas)
There’s also a table covered in large piles of letters – the sum total of Steadman’s quarter century of correspondence with his friend, colleague and partner in depravity Hunter S Thompson. These are currently being sorted through with a view to publication; an idea which seems to please everyone but Thompson himself. “He told me ‘Not you Ralph, with your two- and-a-half per cent instincts’,” Steadman guffaws, pride apparently unhurt. ” ‘Don’t bring shame down upon yourself and your family’.” Ralph seems unsure as to exactly what might be meant by his “two-and-a-half per cent instincts,” but not getting a royalty for his aptly warped illustrations of Thompson’s crazed masterpiece Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas probably has something to do with it. “All the money’s gone up his nose,” he sighs resignedly. Via.
“Anyway, I’m a different kind of person when I’m with Hunter – the animal comes out…I’m not sure why I seem to court friendship with these people when I’m as straight as a die myself,” he ponders. “I suppose in a strange kind of way some of my drawings are junkie drawings – not all of them: sometimes I get a bit elegant – but a lot of my work does look as if I’m on something.” A short pause. “I suppose what I’m actually on is a frightening, paranoiac fear of life, and I exorcise that fear by drawing.” Via.
How would he describe what he does now? “I’m not sure what I am. I always wanted to be an artist, period: I hate the word illustrator – it just sounds so limp – I prefer cartoonist. Goya was a cartoonist, Daumier was a cartoonist, even Picasso used the cartoon form to express himself. But cartooning has got a really bad name now hasn’t it? People think it’s just something for filling up a column in a newspaper [adopts condescending voice] ‘Oh, it’s only a cartoon, here’s a fiver …’ I’m not trying to be artsy-fartsy but I don’t like the division that one thing is fine art and another thing isn’t.” Via.
One of the many facets that sets Hunter S. Thompson’s 70s works apart from other forms of classic American literature are the growling, snarling, punch-between-the-eyeballs illustrations of Ralph Steadman. Roaring from the pages, his pictures visualise the horrors of corporate America, ripping the surface to reveal the political greed and other grotesqueries that contort and degrade the human forms within his pictures. With his method of isolating and focusing on a physical idiosyncrasy, he explodes his subjects, capturing a hidden truth that was hitherto unseen; it’s as if Steadman sees with the naked eye of a schizophrenic. Via.
How do you get those ideas when you transform people in such frightening animal forms?
I see if I can make human beings look like reptiles. I see if I can make them look like hideous creatures that would not come out of anything but perhaps. . . turn a human inside out. . . take a human being, supposing you can sort of like a rubber glove, turn him inside out and then look at it. That’s how it’s really like. When I’ve done a drawing like that and I’ve done a few, I tried to make the person look as though they’re completely turned inside out and I called him ‘The Perfect Gentleman.’ Via.
What’s your idea of a living hell?
Not really being the slightest bit interested in what it is I’ve done all my life. Not wanting to do it and then not knowing what to do next. That would be a living hell. I must have a feeling that: ‘Oooh I’m really excited about this!’ The most depressed times I have is when I just don’t wanna do anything. A living hell is not being creative, being utterly devoid of any creative impulse whatsoever. Via.