Without the visuals by longtime collaborator Ralph Steadman, Hunter S. Thompson may have never gone full ‘gonzo.’ It is hard, in fact, to think about Thompson without recalling Steadman’s extraordinary, warped, nightmarish and beautiful renderings. Steadman has, of course, done much more in his 83 years than just illustrate Thompson’s writings—everything from album covers to the works of George Orwell and Lewis Carroll, from biographies of Leonardo da Vinci and Sigmund Freud to his latest passion, endangered species. Gregory Daurer has known Steadman for years and reconnected with the master artist, who is enjoying a U.S. revival with a traveling exhibition of his work. He spoke with Steadman for PKM.

They were a match made in Louisville. Rising out of the mayhem, that’s where the magic first manifested itself between Welsh artist Ralph Steadman and Kentucky-born journalist Hunter S. Thompson.

In depicting events surrounding the Kentucky Derby in 1970, Thompson’s words and Steadman’s drawings reflected the Vietnam-era malevolence of American culture – the monstrousness of the times microcosmically mirrored by Thompson within the story. And it cemented Steadman and Thompson’s artistic partnership – however beset by conflict their friendship might have occasionally been, over the years. After Thompson’s suicide, Steadman penned a memoir, The Joke’s Over: Bruised Memories: Gonzo, Hunter S. Thompson, and Me.

Without being overly-prompted to do so, Steadman begins speaking at the beginning of this interview about first meeting Thompson, while both were on assignment. This year marks the 50th anniversary of “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved” – the influential article published in Scanlan’s that gave birth to gonzo journalism. Within the humorous piece, Thompson famously puts an alcohol-fueled Steadman and himself, discharges of mace, and interpersonal brutality at the heart of the story, not horses galloping around a muddy track at breakneck speed. Steadman contributed the visuals: a woman in a gambling frenzy; good-ol’-boy louts sitting around a table, one with a horsecock-sized cigar dangling from his mouth; the crowd down on all fours like beasts; and a shrivel-faced, pear-headed horse owner, oozing boozy hostility while holding onto the reigns of his equine investment.

Ralph Steadman

Ralph Steadman

Steadman and Thompson would go on to share misadventures in Rhode Island at the America’s Cup Yacht Race; in Washington, D.C. at the Watergate hearings (Steadman had already contributed illustrations for Thompson’s Rolling Stone political coverage, as well as Thompson’s revered book Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72); in Zaire during the Ali-Foreman boxing match; and in Hawaii at the Honolulu Marathon. And although Steadman wasn’t a character within Thompson’s Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, his gruesomely-funny drawings – barroom lizards awash in blood; square-jawed sheriffs in shorts taking a vacation from, presumably, cracking hippies’ skulls; a knife-wielding, acid-crazed attorney with pinwheel eyes in a bathtub – all gave visual form to Thompson’s prose. “Bad craziness!” – to quote a thought balloon over Thompson’s head within one of Steadman’s drawings.

Thompson isn’t the only writer to whom Steadman has lent his visual mojo. He’s also illustrated work by or collaborated with Will Self; William S. Burroughs (“Just a funny, amazing guy,” says Steadman of the  gun-toting author); and Anthony Bourdain, dining with Bourdain on Parts Unknown, in addition to providing the cover design for Bourdain’s cookbook Appetites. The illustrations for a boxed DVD set of Breaking Bad were provided by Steadman. And he’s done cover art for musicians ranging from Ambrosia to Nils Lofgren (“a good friend of mine…I’ve decorated electric guitars and [he and his wife] have sold them for charity”) to Slash to, more recently, the rap act Huncho Jack. Need to lend some artistic derangement to a theater, a film, or a brand? Steadman has executed everything from wine and beer labels to movie posters for Withnail and I and Where the Buffalo Roam to, most recently, illustrations used by Vans footwear dealing with the “gonzovation” theme of protecting endangered species.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Courtesy of Ralph Steadman.

Oh. And he’s also illustrated a slew of books authored by Ralph Steadman, as well, including titles such as Sigmund Freud, The Grapes of Ralph, and I, Leonardo. Steadman’s art has made appearances within Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Ambit, The Economist, Esquire, The Independent, and NME (here’s a depiction of “Ghost Town” by The Specials). A 2012 documentary about his life, For No Good Reason, features Steadman conducting a dialogue with Johnny Depp about his work. And, earlier in 2019, a traveling Steadman retrospective appeared at the University of Kentucky Museum and the Kansas City Public Library, before landing presently at the Jordan Schnitzer Art Museum in Eugene, Oregon. Expect it to travel to more cities in the near future. Who knows? Maybe the exhibition will even take a road trip to Las Vegas.

On Steadman’s Twitter page, a steady outpouring of new imagery appears. Due to his prolific output, Steadman now declares himself to be a “visual polluter,” saying, “I’m filling the world, there’s too many drawings around!” Within his oeuvre, visual simulacra of blood, sweat, snot, and vomit drip down, with twisted and gnarled figures populating many of his images. Yet there are also elements of beauty residing within Steadman’s visual shire.

This writer has his own history with Steadman, profiling him for Juxtapoz, High Times, BeeR, Salon, and Denver’s city magazine 5280 (obtaining a quote about Steadman from the then-current mayor – as well as future Colorado governor and failed 2020 Democratic presidential candidate – John Hickenlooper). In The Joke’s Over, Steadman gives passing mention to this author, calling him a “studious fan.”

For this edited interview, Steadman, 83, spoke a couple of times by phone from his home in Kent, England, in addition to following-up by email.

Ralph Steadman: I just watched Strangers on a Train. Do you remember that film?

PKM: No, I do not.

Ralph Steadman: Farley Granger. Evil film. God, I’m overcome now…What did you want to know that was mysteriously fascinating?

PKM: Well, if we’re going to start off that way – mysterious and fascinating – what do you think it is about your artwork that has drawn so many people to desire working with you?

Ralph Steadman: I wonder that myself! One of the strange things about this sort of thing is I never draw doing pencil work first. I go straight in with the pen. They say, “Don’t you make a mistake?” And I say, There’s no such thing as a mistake. Mistakes are opportunities to do something else. And that’s how you get the mystery of it, if you like. If there’s any mystery in it, it can be sometimes quite by mistake. You hadn’t thought of it that way and then suddenly it starts to go that way. Does that make sense?

PKM: It does. It seems like once you did work with Hunter S. Thompson, many people wanted to work with you. They wanted some of that magic, some of that mojo, so to speak, that association you bring. You’re kind of wizard-like in that way.

Ralph Steadman: Yeah, when I finally…It took three days to meet Hunter. There was a guy called J.C. Suarez in New York, from Brooklyn. And he was working for the magazine called Scanlan’s – and Scanlan is the name of a little known pig farmer. And that was what they called the first magazine that I worked for [in the United States], when I was asked by this J.C. Suarez, “How’d you like to go to Kentucky and meet an ex-Hell’s Angel who just shaved his head?”

[Editor’s note: Although, Thompson wrote the book Hell’s Angels about the outlaw motorcycle club, he was never a member. Yet that’s what Steadman was led to believe, at least, at first. Thompson had shaved his head when he ran for Sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado in 1970 on the Freak Power ticket, so that he could call his anti-hippie rival “my long-haired opponent.”]


I go straight in with the pen. They say, “Don’t you make a mistake?” And I say, There’s no such thing as a mistake. Mistakes are opportunities to do something else. And that’s how you get the mystery of it.


So, I said, That sounds interesting. What does he do? “Well, he’s written a book about the Hell’s Angels, and he’s looking for an artist and we heard about you coming over” – it was my first visit to America. It was 49 years ago. [Hunter] did finally find me, ’cause he kept asking around, “Have you seen him?” Me, you know, Welsh. And they say, “Oh, you wouldn’t miss him!” I had a little beard at the time, a little goatee beard. And it’s the only time I ever had anything like that. Never had a mustache, and I’m clean-shaven the rest of my life.

When Hunter met me [Steadman impersonates Thompson’s voice:] – “Excuse me?” Yes. “Are you the artist from England?” That’s right. Are you Hunter S. Thompson? “My God! I took one look at you…They said you were weird, but not that weird!” [Laughs.] And then, he says, “God, you look like some matted-haired geek with string-warts!” I don’t know what string-warts are, but I probably had ’em – or appeared to have ’em! But, at the time in Kentucky, nobody wore beards, at all. Even small one.

1970 Kentucky Derby imagery. Courtesy of Ralph Steadman.

And then I was too busy taking photographs with a small Minox camera (you might remember that name). That’s what I [would] use, because I kept it at waist level and took pictures of people: [Steadman sounding like an American derelict:] “Just a dime, buddy! This is a tough city to get started in!” And that sort of thing, you know. And I wanted to take pictures of the people, more than the horses, because I turned around every time there was a race. And somebody says, “Turn around, buddy! You’re facing the wrong way!”

PKM: Didn’t you just return to Kentucky in 2019 and see the Derby for the first time in years?

Ralph Steadman: Yeah, it’s changed so much. The two towers at Churchill Downs, they’re dwarfed now by the spectator stands. It’s amazing the difference. And of course the center field used to be grass; now it’s all sort of different things around it. It’s completely rebuilt, remodeled. It was quite extraordinary seeing it for the first time in that many years, 49 years.

PKM: Did being there bring back any memories of you and Hunter together that maybe you’d forgotten?

Ralph Steadman: Let’s see…I’m trying to think. My God, when you say it like that! It was strange. The thing I do remember, the first turnaround, his voice: [Mimics Hunter:] His voice is like that. Very deep. And I turned around and I saw this head that…He was 6’5”, 6’6” towering above me. Apparently there was some other artist that was going to go there. Hunter asked him first. But he was going to a cartoon festival in England.

PKM: I believe that was Pat Oliphant.

Ralph Steadman: Pat Oliphant! That’s right! And the other thing that I found out not too long ago was that when that first story appeared in Scanlan’s magazine…The thing was the people that went to the Kentucky Derby were depraved and decadent. Bill Cardoso was from Sausalito, just over the Golden [Gate] Bridge in San Francisco, he’s the one that came up with the word gonzo. “Hey, that race, the Kentucky Derby [article] in 1970, that was pure gonzo!” I’d never heard of it. [Thompson’s voice:] “’Gonzo’?! What’s ‘gonzo’? Gonzo – I like that word.” And I found out what it meant, eventually. It’s a Portuguese word and it means “hinge.” And I guess it means that our work was unhinged. You know, off the wall. Crazy. And that’s how I put that together.

PKM: What was the best time you two had together?

Ralph Steadman: Probably Washington [for Watergate]. Yes, Washington. We were going to do a trip of the whole America, actually, as time went by.

Because we also went to Hawaii and we did the marathon together. [Ed.: As depicted in the book The Curse of Lono.] And, shoulder-to-shoulder, we ran. We didn’t start off easy, we started off like we were running a hundred yards. And somebody had a house at the bottom of Heartbreak Hill, and they’d invited us for a party there. And we had this truck waiting to take us the rest of the way, so not do it, but to stop at Heartbreak Hill, where there was drinks. And people passing by – poor worn out Hawaiian marathon runners – were absolutely exhausted and trying to make this last Heartbreak Hill. People break on it or they make it. We were saying, “Go run, you bastard! Run! Keep it going! Go on!” And we’d cheer ’em with a glass of wine. And they were saying, “You unsporting bastards, you! How dare you!” In their anger, they were wearing themselves out even worse. A dirty trick to play on them, really! And so that’s how that went.

PKM: Are you going to come to America and cover another impeachment hearing?

Ralph Steadman: If [President Donald J. Trump] gets impeached, I think it’s best I come and do that. Do you remember Sam Ervin? You’ve heard of him, have you? He was the judge for the impeachment of Nixon, and I was with Hunter there at the trial. And that was quite interesting, too. I think I must still have the evidence of the drawing somewhere on my computer.

PKM: In The Joke’s Over, you say you miss Hunter “like a lost leg.” Do you still feel his phantom presence like a lost leg, at times?


“’Gonzo’?! What’s ‘gonzo’? Gonzo – I like that word.” And I found out what it meant, eventually. It’s a Portuguese word and it means “hinge.” And I guess it means that our work was unhinged. You know, off the wall. Crazy.



Ralph Steadman:
I do miss him, because it was funny talking to him. Of all the people in the world that I should meet, I end up meeting this guy, quite by chance, really – you know, when asked if I’d like to meet this ex-Hell’s Angel who’d just shaved his head. And he was forever weird. And it’s somebody I quite frankly admired, because his turn of phrase is so wonderful. He just spoke the right way. I mean we actually used to correspond by fax machine. You remember those? I don’t think they make them anymore.

There was something about working with him that was just right, perfect. And him realizing…I just said, “I’m the Innocent Abroad” – that I just come here and I’m fascinated by everything and I’m just trying to do something.

“Statue of Liberty Takers.” Courtesy of Ralph Steadman.

Then the awful news when [Steadman and Thompson’s printmaker] Joe Petro rang me up to say, “Take your phone off the hook, Hunter just committed suicide.” When he shot himself, his son Juan and Juan’s wife Jennifer, they were in the next room. The bullet hole is still through the cooker hood [in the kitchen]. Or it still was the last time I went to Owl Farm.

It’s kind of sad now that he did what he did, the 20th of February, 2005. Very weird being rung up in the middle of the night and told of Hunter’s committing suicide. Sheriffs of Pitkin County turned up when they heard about it – and Sheriff Bob Braudis, a real pal of Hunter’s – they all turned up, they all took one of Hunter’s books down and all read a page out loud over his body, before they had him taken to the hospital for whatever they do, before…

I mean, he took me with him to a funeral director to discuss how to get rid of his remains – by shooting them off a tower, a large tower, that would be made. Johnny Depp paid for it, by the way. It seems that he got it all worked out. He wanted his remains blasted from this tower that I actually went to the funeral parlor with Hunter in 1972 to discuss what he wanted done with his body. Kind of weird thing to have to do. But he always knew that he would one day do it. He said, “I’d feel real trapped in this life, Ralph, if I didn’t know that I could commit suicide at any moment.” He had 23 fully-loaded guns at Owl Farm.

PKM: In terms of your relationship with Hunter, he coined the phrase “Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride” – and you certainly did that, but you didn’t know it was going to be such a rough ride, at times.

Ralph Steadman: No, I didn’t. I mean the point is this, actually, about that “Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride” – taking drugs, I did it once with him. What was it? I took psilocybin, which is a hallucinogenic [drug]. I did it once, and we decided what we were going to do was go between the boats in Rhode Island where they do the America’s [Cup] yacht race and the boats are all side by side and Hunter brought with him two spray cans, a red and a black. And I said, “What are you going to do with them?” And he said, “Well, you know, you’re the artist Ralph. You use ’em. What are you going to do?” I said, “How about writing ‘Fuck The Pope’ [on the boats]?” And he said, “Are you religious, Ralph?” [Laughs] As if you’d be religious and say a thing like that! We got caught in the process. I never would have left America if I did what I said I was going to do – you know, writing “’F’ the Pope” on the side of all those yachts, those million dollar yachts!


Then the awful news when [Steadman and Thompson’s printmaker] Joe Petro rang me up to say, “Take your phone off the hook, Hunter just committed suicide.” When he shot himself, his son Juan and Juan’s wife Jennifer, they were in the next room. The bullet hole is still through the cooker hood [in the kitchen]. Or it still was the last time I went to Owl Farm.



PKM:
You wrote that many “found [Hunter’s] violent wordplay a tonic for living.”

Ralph Steadman: Yes, it is a kind of tonic. The way he said things is quite extraordinary, almost out of nowhere. Amazing kind of wordplay. Almost gymnastic wordplay. He was quite remarkable like that.

It’s quite extraordinary that I should meet him. If you thought about it, you probably wouldn’t think [Thompson and I] would go together as a team. But, of all the people I should meet in America, it was Hunter. It was just, like, outrageously right. And I’m so glad that that happened.

PKM: He could be verbally abusive to you, couldn’t he?

Ralph Steadman: Oh boy, yeah! He really was. It’s funny how you’re asking me about all this now, but some of it I’ve even forgotten. I could probably find it again in all the books I’ve got here… Proud to Be Weird, about weird things I’ve done in my life... I put together drawings in a book called America. That’s another book that you might know.

PKM: I have a question for you about your Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas drawings, and it’s about the man who was the basis for Doctor Gonzo, Oscar Zeta Acosta. If I’ve got it correct, you hadn’t met him yet. So were you imagining a 300-pound Samoan? Or had Hunter told you about who Oscar was – a Latino attorney?


Sheriff Bob Braudis, a real pal of Hunter’s – they all turned up, they all took one of Hunter’s books down and all read a page out loud over his body, before they had him taken to the hospital for whatever they do.



Ralph Steadman:
He’d sort of mentioned him. Because the thing was, we were talking about a rather sad police case they had something to do with. What’s his name?

PKM: It was the Ruben Salazar case.

Ralph Steadman: They were doing a thing about that and Oscar Acosta was a lawyer. And the two of them went to Las Vegas together, but they ended up going to watch motorbike racing.

PKM: Yes, that’s correct, to get out of Los Angeles. To me, the drawings help make the story. They really bring it to life.

Ralph Steadman: Oh, good. That was the idea.Wittgenstein said the thing of real value is the thing you cannot say. But if you can see it, it makes all the difference. You go, Oh, yessss! So that’s what made it for me, being able to do that.

PKM: And certainly that increased the popularity of the book, I imagine.

Ralph Steadman: Well, people will see what they’re talking about. But Hunter had a wonderful way with words. And I think that was most important.

PKM: But it’s something, those images: the events taking place above the gambling table and the lizards in the bar, how that all streamed out of your mind, just reading those words.

Ralph Steadman: Yeah, that’s an incredible thing. I always like the Lizard Lounge. And then the sheriffs standing around in their shorts. [Laughs.] Quite nice.

PKM: Would you say you’ve had a similar chemistry working with other people?

Ralph Steadman: No, never.

PKM: I read that you did some of your first cartoons in 1956. But I was surprised to learn just recently that you did a lot of jazz record covers around the same time, as well. Were you listening to much jazz at the time? There are some renowned musicians on those records like John Coltrane, Miles Davis.

Ralph Steadman: Miles Davis, certainly. I was learning guitar at the time with a man who played with Django Reinhart. All he wanted to do was give me my lesson and then get me to talk to him about art.

I did The Who, as well. And Brian Auger and the Trinity. Remember him, them? Brian Auger and Julie Driscoll – and I went with her to her place to draw the cover of Brian Auger and the Trinity and her performing in the streets outside.

PKM: That’s quite a caricature of The Who. Did you ever meet them?

Ralph Steadman: I don’t think I ever met them. I had enough pictures of them, I could sort of construct them out of it.

1967 Steadman single sleeve design

PKM: You felt you were part of the Satire Boom of the 1960s – although that was referred to, early on, in regards to theater – but you translated that into cartoons and caricatures?

Ralph Steadman: Yeah, through [William] Hogarth. And I used to like André François, a French cartoonist. [Saul] Steinberg, he was a big favorite of mine. There was a lot of people. And they’d done something special. Ronald Searle had done St. Trinian’s, you know, the girl’s school and Alec Guinness [Ed.: Alistair Sim] had played the school marm in the film of it.

I went for air factory [work] when I left school, first of all. De Havilland Aircraft Company in Chester in north of England. And after nine months, I had to leave. I couldn’t stand factory life. It’s just so terrible. Awful. Oh my god, not this for life. I was going to do a five-year apprenticeship there. So I left that and I had a brother-in-law (who died a couple of years ago), and he got me a job at Woolworth’s [laughs] as a stock room boy, after that. And there was a particularly unpleasant sub-manager, under-manager who was also working around that, you know, he was in the stock room a lot. And very much of a bully. And we set to – it was the only fight I’d really had in me life. And we had to be parted.

And then I saw my old hideous headmaster who used to cane the boys. ‘Cause I’d got into grammar school, you know, scholarship and all that sort of thing. We had a lovely Welsh headmaster called DB Jones, who was really nice. And then he retired and this man Hubert Hughes took over, and he became a real bully. And that time – which is quite a while ago – they were still caning boys. And we had to go through a weekly caning. It was hideous. When I think of these things, [laughs] they’re so awful.


He said, “I’d feel real trapped in this life, Ralph, if I didn’t know that I could commit suicide at any moment.” He had 23 fully-loaded guns at Owl Farm.


 

I know what’s coming up: The time to do my military service. So I’d been making model airplanes all my life, from a young boy. And that’s why I thought I would want to be an aircraft engineer.

But I got this job at Woolworth’s and it was brushing the floors and oiling the floors on a Friday night and learning the craft of whatever you’d call it, of being a manager of a Woolworth’s. Which of course is gone now, Woolworth’s. And he passed me, the schoolmaster, and I was just finishing sweeping up at the front of the store and he said, “Look at you! Sweeping the streets in Colwyn Bay!” – which is the place I had this job [in North Wales]. And really sneering at me: “You should have stayed at De Havilland, and you’d have done well there.”

PKM: You’re still doing significant work. I’m thinking of your artwork of near extinct or extinct animals with Ceri Levy. Or your recent caricature of Boris Johnson.

Ralph Steadman: Oh, you saw that, did you? That was on the cover of the The Big Issue, the magazine that the people sell [on the streets]. They call it “A hand up, not a hand out.” That’s the thing written on the front of it. It’s not a charity. You’ve got to sell the magazines. That’s John Bird who started the magazine.

Steadman rendering of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson for the British magazine The Big Issue.

PKM: And what are your thoughts on Boris Johnson or the situation in your country?

Ralph Steadman: Ah, Jesus! A real buffoon of the worst kind! I mean, hideous. And I don’t like Nigel Farage. He’s hideous. He said he’s got 600 people who are going to work for him to try to get out of Europe, you know. I don’t see the reason to get out of Europe. It’s hopeless. We need to belong to it, as we are part of Europe, but an offshore island, for God’s sake. And it’s a bad thing to me, leaving it. We’re going to have a bloody election again soon, for Christ’s sake. It’s awful.

Last time I did politicians, aside from Boris, is when I started drawing politicians’ legs instead of the rest of them. Just their legs, and use something to identify them – like one was using a soapbox to campaign on. And I think that was John Major.


If you thought about it, you probably wouldn’t think [Thompson and I] would go together as a team. But, of all the people I should meet in America, it was Hunter. It was just, like, outrageously right. And I’m so glad that that happened.



PKM:
When you draw near-extinct birds, or extinct birds, or bees…

Ralph Steadman: “Boids,” I call them. Boids. I call them extinct boids. And I did another called [Critical] Critters.

PKM: Do you do it because you feel it’s important to point out the situation? Do you feel any hope in the midst of that?

Ralph Steadman: Not much. No, that’s the problem. Actually, I just finished another drawing – of a [Maui parrotbill, the kiwikiu]. It’s a funny bird. It’s from Hawaii. Very few left, and I was asked actually [to draw it], last week. I just finished the drawing of this [kiwikiu]. And they love it. If there’s a slight peculiarity in the way I draw, it attracts attention. Put it like that. And it’s better that way than just a photograph of a bird. I try to keep the accuracy in the detail and take advantage of it slightly here and there, as though it could talk to you. And it’s important in that way.

I think human beings have fucked the place up – I think, as a rule. Most of them, anyway. Some of them [do] good work, trying to save the planet. I tell you who I do like is David Attenborough. His work with animals and very strange creatures. He’s quite a guy. He’s 92, now. Blimey.

PKM: Well, there you go, Ralph. You still have to save the planet for another decade, at least. You still have to work at it.

Ralph Steadman: Yeah, you’re right! Gotta save the planet! I’ll probably get up and do it now! [Laughs.]

Extinct Hawaiian birds. Courtesy of Ralph Steadman.

PKM: When you met up with Anthony Bourdain was he familiar with your wine-and-travel books, The Grapes of Ralph and Untrodden Grapes?

Ralph Steadman: I never thought for a moment that Bourdain would do what he did! There was not a hint of trouble in him. I took him down to our local pub and bought him a lunch down there. And they had a camera crew there to do pictures of us sitting, eating. And he ate everything – he had some meat (perhaps ham, perhaps maybe bacon)-and-vegetable pie. And he ate everything, but left the crust – which was so odd to me. He didn’t eat any of that. That’s very odd. But he didn’t mention anything about that. I mean there’s another book jacket that I’d done for him called Appetites. That was the last book he did, I think. I don’t know what was wrong with him, I don’t know what happened. Of course, that hanging…He had something on his mind which obviously nobody would know about.

My daughter’s still selling [a Steadman image of Bourdain] in aid of this charity thing for people who get themselves into situations where they’re thinking of taking their lives.

Anthony Bourdain cookbook with Steadman cover design.

PKM: On a more positive note, Richard E. Grant was nominated for an Oscar recently and he’s said that had it not been for your encouragement when you first saw him in his Withnail and I costume, he wouldn’t have had as much confidence to pull off that early film role.

Ralph Steadman: That was quite an interesting meeting with him. I quite like Richard E. Grant. He’s an interesting man. He’s gone on to do quite a lot of stuff. And there was another guy [Richard Griffiths], I think. A rather plump guy. A big guy he was. I remember going with them to the farmhouse where they were staying. And I was doing sketches of them there.

[The film’s writer and director] Bruce Robinson he lives in the Wye Valley now for quite a while. They have festivals in the Wye Valley every year, every summer. And he turned up [in Kent] once, years ago, when there was a lovely big tree at the far end of our garden, and it was a horse chestnut. And he was pissed [drunk], and he went and fell down underneath it and looked up to the leaves. And I went over to him and said, “How do you like my tree, Bruce?” And he said [Steadman affects slurred speech], “Isss not yer tree Ralph, it’s evvrrybuddy’s treee!

PKM: When we first met in 1995 at William Havu‘s 1/1 Gallery in Denver, that was the first time you’d ever had a solo show in the United States, I believe. You’ve had quite a few since then – and this year you’ve had three. Do you feel like the popularity of your work has increased exponentially over the past decade or so?

Ralph Steadman: Well, let’s just say, yes, in a way – that Sadie’s had a lot to do with that. My youngest daughter. She’s really taken on the whole thing. She’s got an office upstairs and she deals with it. And she’s very good at organization. And she seems to love doing it. She’s just come back from America. Oregon. [The exhibit] is in Oregon, at the moment.

PKM: Is there going to be a Ralph Steadman Museum in Kent one day?

Ralph Steadman: Who knows? I don’t know. I’ve got to do something really good. You know, I’ve got the “The Last Supper” on the bedroom wall, do you? [Ed.: Steadman did that painting in his home, while researching the life of Leonardo da Vinci.]

For No Good Reason promotional photo of Johnny Depp and Ralph Steadman.

PKM: I’ve seen that, I think, in the documentary.

Ralph Steadman: Oh right, yeah. You’ve seen that, have you? For No Good Reason.

PKM: What was the best thing that came out of that for you?

Ralph Steadman: Quite a lot of people saw it, I think. It was interesting in that way. And For No Good Reason is not a bad title, [laughs] a modest title.

PKM:Are you still in touch with any of your fans from the movie like Johnny Depp or Terry Gilliam?

Ralph Steadman: I’ve done a whole lot of blue drawings of The Pogues – and that’s being made into a film and Johnny Depp is producing it.

PKM: “Blue” as in “Picasso blue”?

Ralph Steadman: Painted blue, because he had a dream, Shane MacGowan. It’s nice to do these things, people still want things. I carry on doing them.

PKM: Is there supposed to be a film of The Curse of Lono?

Ralph Steadman: It’s coming. That’s another thing! But do you know what they wanted to do?! They wanted to produce it and cut me out of it!

PKM: I don’t see how that’s possible.

Ralph Steadman: They said, “No, no, we’ll do it, but just about Hunter.”

PKM: That makes no sense to me. I think of you injuring yourself by running out into the ocean and getting slammed back to shore on the coral.

Ralph Steadman: Oh, yeah! [laughs]

PKM: Which three books of yours would you encourage everyone to read?

Ralph Steadman: What about that one I did when Hunter died, The Joke’s Over? That one’s the best, I think. It’s a reminiscence about Hunter and the days we spent together.

PKM: What about books with more of your drawings in them?


I’ve done a whole lot of blue drawings of The Pogues – and that’s being made into a film and Johnny Depp is producing it.



Ralph Steadman:
I think Animal Farm, that’s a really nice one of, you know, George Orwell. Hang on, I’m looking over, they’re all on the shelves here…Oh, Doodaaa is quite good! I’ll get it out of the shelf. [Steadman starts reading aloud from the dust jacket copy]: “Ralph Steadman, creator of his own inimitable visions of Freud, Leonardo…” Oh that’s a good book, by the way, I, Leonardo! I did a book on the life of Leonardo da Vinci – which is why I had to do three things that Leonardo did: One was build a flying machine, one was to paint “The Last Supper,” and I think the third was walking on water, I tried to do that.

Leonardo da Vinci. Courtesy of Ralph Steadman.

PKM: [Laughs] Well, did Leonardo walk on water?

Ralph Steadman: No, it didn’t work! I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t balance. I was doing it on balloon-ey things, blow-up.

[Steadman goes back to reading from the Doodaaa book jacket:] “…get to the heart of the mystery and discover how, after [Marcel] Duchamp and the School of Dada, art lost its soul…”

PKM: What other projects do you have on the horizon?

Ralph Steadman: I don’t know. What shall I do? [dramatically:] What shall I do?! I don’t know. [Ed.: Steadman begins listing the titles of some of his books:] Scar Strangled Banger…I’ve done Alice [in Wonderland], you know; I did all the Alice books. What else is there? What shall I do? Perhaps, you’re the person to ask…Oh, I’ve done The Poor Mouth (An Béal Bocht) by Flann O’Brien – Myles na Gopalee, his Irish name. That was quite something. The Alice books were something; I liked doing those. And Sigmund Freud.


I did a book on the life of Leonardo da Vinci – which is why I had to do three things that Leonardo did: One was build a flying machine, one was to paint “The Last Supper,” and I think the third was walking on water, I tried to do that


I went to Sigmund Freud’s place in the Ninth District of Vienna. I went down to his cellar consulting room, and the wallpaper was still on the wall from the ’30s – it was just like it was [when Freud was alive]. He had sort of a sink, a water sink. It was quite crude, really, in a way. I lay down on the floor, exactly where the consulting couch had been and took a photograph of the ceiling – what you would see if you were lying on his consulting couch being psychoanalyzed.

Sigmund Freud by Ralph Steadman.

PKM: How do you think Freud would have analyzed you?

Ralph Steadman: He probably would have seen me more as someone who wanted to be a barber or a hairdresser [laughs]. Something like that. Something pointless. I have no idea, really. But it’s an interesting question. Maybe, an arms dealer, yes – or that my drawings are more like weapons than drawings, if you know what I mean.

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MORE FROM PKM:

HUNTER S. THOMPSON VS THE HELLS ANGELS

THE BIRTH OF GONZO AT THE KENTUCKY DERBY

 
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