Ralph Steadman, a British caricaturist and cartoonist, is best known for his work with “gonzo” journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Steadman brought Thompson‘s articles and stories to life with frenzied, inksplattered illustrations of the reporter’s misadventures (eg, Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas).
Steadman is also renowned for his political and social caricatures and cartoons. During the 1960′s, he worked freelance for numerous publications including Punch, Private Eye, The Daily Telegraph, The New York Times and Rolling Stone magazine. He was voted Illustrator of the Year by the American Institute of Graphic Arts in 1979. In addition, Steadman also illustrated a number of classic stories including George Orwell‘s Animal Farm, Ray Bradbury‘s Farenheit 451, Robert Louis Stevenson‘s Treasure Island, and of course, Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland.
Ralph Steadman‘s Alice In Wonderland was first published in 1967 & contains 47 pen & ink illustrations. Steadman‘s drawings, a startling departure from the traditional illustrations, remain faithful to the book’s satirical tone while revealing the artist’s own passion for irony. Steadman‘s fresh illustrative approach breathes new life into the classic story, creating an original, modern vision through the artist’s dynamic and audacious images.
Steadman explains, “It is difficult to explain in words what the pictures are trying to say, and therefore my explanations are not precisely what I had in mind because they add shades of meaning which are not there. The reader can only interpret them in his own way, bringing his own observations to bear on the image he is looking at, so that he may agree or disagree with what I have tried to convey. When I set out to draw an idea, part of that idea is not yet formed and only takes shape and reveals itself as the drawing progresses. Consequently, the drawing acquires a life of its own and virtually takes over the direction it will follow — or so it seems.”
Steadman‘s King & Queen of Hearts (above) form the center of a larger courtroom scene (part of which is shown below). Steadman describes this as “The Monarch having evolved or developed into a shapeless mass of hangers-on, the State, H.M. Forces, the Church, the establishment walking on one pair of very well-worn legs. The King and Queen born into it and enveloped in it and lost in it, obliged to go through the motions automatically but surprising even themselves by their own outbursts.”
” Worried by time, hurrying and scurrying. Sane within a routine, slightly insane but more engaging when the routine is upset. Today’s commuter,” says Steadman about The White Rabbit.
He describes the Mad Hatter as, “the unpleasant sides of human nature. The unreasoned argument screams at you. The bully, the glib quiz game compère who rattles off endless reels of unanswerable riddles and asks you to come back next week and make a bloody fool of yourself again,” and says the March Hare “is always standing close by. The “egger-on” urging the banality to plumb even greater depths. He always seems to be around to push someone into a fight.” As for the Dormouse, Steadman says he’s, “Harmless and nice. The man anyone in the office can take a rise out of. If you tread on his face he will smile right back at you.”
Steadman took inspiration for his Card Guards from British workmen, “Bickering about who splashed who and standing in the stuff all the time anyway.”
Steadman explains that the animals in his illustration of The Pool Of Tears “remind me of people I know, rather as Lewis Carroll apparently created them around friends and associates. The reader can place his own interpretation on them. It was never my intention to set everything in concrete.”
Steadman defines the Caterpillar as a “young intellectual. Smoking hash, pedantic, who thinks he has something to say and sheds his opinions as easily as his skins.”
Steadman is well known among the British public for his illustrations for the catalogues of the off-licence chain Oddbins. He also designed the labels for Flying Dog beer and Cardinal “Spiced” Zin’ wine, which was banned in Ohio for Steadman‘s “disturbing” interpretation of a Catholic cardinal on its label.
Steadman also illustrates Will Self‘s column in The Independent newspaper. Johnny Depp‘s anthology of songs, Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys (2006) contains two contributions from Steadman; he sings lead on “Little Boy Billee“, and sings backing vocals on Eliza Carthy‘s song “Rolling Sea“.
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