I first came across Ralph Steadman way back when I discovered Hunter S Thompson. Which makes sense, the British born Steadman is probably most famous for his collaborations with Thompson. Steadman’s work has been described as provocative, grotesque, and he is best known for the spattered, splotchy illustrations in ink that he did partnered with Thompson. I call him and his work, simply brilliant. If you’re not familiar with him, head down to the local market and check out some Flying Dog beer labels. Steadman is the artist. Now take home a sixer, have a few, and really look at his work.
Steadman’s work has always had a satirical bent. This combined with a provocative tendency, led many publications to decide his material was too offensive to print.
Steadman realized he faced a lack of freedom to publish his work in London. He began traveling back and forth to the United States in the hope he would find a friendlier publishing environment. This led to a relationship with Rolling Stone.
In 1970, Steadman met Thompson through Scanlan’s Monthly, when they were paired for a story on the Kentucky Derby, this would be the first of many collaborations. Thompson introduced Steadman to the idea of“gonzo” journalism. Gonzo, the idea, appealed to Steadman. The next year he illustrated Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1972), Thompson’s best known work. Steadman’s illustrations and imagery were adapted for a 1998 film of the same name, starring Johnny Depp.
Steadman worked regularly as a political cartoonist in the U.K. and U.S. throughout the late 1960s and ’70s. By this time he had gained a reputation for producing controversial and at times unprintable content. His characters were portrayed in a dark and grotesque manner. At times he exaggerated their physical features in or to reveal hidden truths about politics, corporate greed, and violence.
Finding an original Steadman would be a feat. Steadman sold the original illustrations for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, on the advice of his agent Jann Wenner for $75. A fraction of their real value. Since this, Steadman has for the most part refused to sell any of his original artwork. According to him “If anyone owns a Steadman original, it’s stolen.” There are a few out there but Steadman has managed to hold onto most of his original work.
The legal challenges brought about by his beer label work make for some interesting reading. Check out his wiki article for more about his life and work.