Ralph Steadman: The Crucial Comic


August 2017 | GABE SCOTT | Juxtapoz

“Ralph Steadman has spent a lifetime conceiving and crafting images that are each a unique event. His audience responds to his personal artistic morality with pause, reflecting on how individual actions can determine a collective direction for the future.

The breadth of his work certainly has its crude roots in a searing and merciless sense of humor that flourishes in the political and societal arena, but not to be overlooked is his keen appreciation of modern art history.

We may not have enjoyed the Steadman we know without the benefit of Jackson Pollock, Francis Bacon and Willem de Kooning, but Ralph personally injected lowbrow, comic, street, graffiti and the art of resistance into the milieu. His vast influence is that significant, and it has directly affected the creative impetus for so many artists, actors and performers we admire today.

As a young adult, already possessed with a gentle generosity, he was so startled by the misery and depravity of the world that it became a life’s work to champion what is good and achievable—without pretense.

Challenges motivate him, and each one questions perceived limitation. Over time, his work has become more personal, unwavering in his mission. Finally, we will have the opportunity to share this greatness in the form of a retrospective, preceded by a new book dedicated to benefitting our non-human, at risk cohabitants on earth. Steadman’s work will never cease to be relevant, as it is that of a true, master technician who reveres the best interest of all living things. There is no better time to drink it all in.


Gabe Scott: Since we last met on your 80th birthday, both Trump and Brexit have come to pass. Can you please tell me what the hell is going on? Of course, some of your best work was born in and around volatile periods of modern history. Has all this global political bullshit motivated you to act out in the name of creative decency?
Ralph Steadman: Yes, I want to hide. I don’t think I can remember a time as bad as this in politics. The entire time I’ve been doing political drawings, and I thought it was bad with Nixon.

It’s that bad, in your opinion?
Oh, it’s worse than that—at least Nixon was a bonafide politician. He had a certain agenda, even if it was a slightly underhanded one. Now it’s just buffoons. Not only that, you’ve got this manic Islamic state stuff as well—that’s a load of hooey, that’s what that is.

There’s a lovely actor, the one from Better Call Saul, Bob Odenkirk. I met him and he gave me his book, A Load of Hooey. That’s really what we’re going through at the moment. It’s such a shame, no one seems to have learned anything.


Perhaps it’s time to do a portrait gallery of total assholes. Ya know what I mean? Those people who would be presidents, those people who would be vice presidents, those people who would be leaders of any kind; those people we should follow… with a custard pie. It could be good! It’s all beginning to remind me of the very old classic film of Laurel and Hardy trying to take a grand piano upstairs.

I did a drawing of Bush with horns back in 2003, and it said, “In Texas, they say we swagger, but in Texas, that’s walking,’’ and, ‘’In Texas, they say we’re stupid, but in Texas, that’s an intellectual.”

It’s not Texas’s fault, it’s just certain individuals that think they’re leaders, or visionaries or prophets. We need leaders, goddamnit! You only gave Jimmy Carter one go at it. Nice chap, you know, and you kick him out. He’s too nice. And a peanut farmer, to boot. He had a proper working life before he became a politician. You want stupid? Trump is just a practiced asshole. I’ve done the Trump thing, and he’s wearing a diaper…

Well then, this is probably the right time, socially and politically, to see a retrospective of your work tour the States, and it gets underway soon
Unless people feel it’s best forgotten; or that it belongs in a wiser time. Perhaps now we want idiot stuff.

What was it I was saying the other day? “Always eat when you are hungry, always drink when you are dry, always sleep when you are tired, but don’t stop breathing, or you’ll die.” That’s kind of an idiot’s refrain about things. You’ve got to tell people that; otherwise they’ll stop breathing for no good reason. Just to do it. Please! Is there anyone out there that could be a leader?  I mean is there nobody over there, philosophers of any kind?

Perhaps you’ll successfully inspire our next savior!  Do you consider authority something that you fundamentally rebel against? If so, where did that sentiment come from? How has that been a driving force for you, and does it still impel you today?
Yes. It was a tyrannical headmaster in grammar school. He was a terrible man who used to line the boys up outside his office and cane them for what seemed like no good reason. It was part of the system, and he could get away with it and seemed to enjoy it. It was part of his day, and his right, and he took it as easily as he would a cup of tea!

When authority goes wrong, it becomes abusive. It upsets everything and can upset the most gentle of temperaments. It always informs my work because it will never go away. That’s why I draw rubbish politicians and people who are not really politicians.

It’s upsetting and it’s the only way I feel I can fight back; have my say, but not with violence, never with violence back at them. Now we are entering a time of articulated stupidity—not mindless, but very cunning wickedness. It’s heartbreaking. I hope there is one doubting Thomas amongst the younger ones to say, “Stop, Father, that’s enough.”

I’m sure that level of disdain was something that bonded you and Mr. Thompson all those years ago. Did you and Hunter ever discuss the roads you may have traveled down individually, if your paths had not crossed? Have you ever given much thought to your respective achievements and how they may have differed, how different your lives might have been if that fateful friendship had not been forged
He was the one person I was meant to meet in America. We were like chalk and cheese. I loved the way he wrote and pointed me in the direction he wanted me to observe, and I was shocked and horrified, delighted and surprised by people’s stupidity.

Some of the early bits of writing I’ve come across are very apprehensive and ordinary. Hunter was really feeling his way, so to speak. If I hadn’t met him, I might have come home without doing anything—maybe carrying on with Private Eye and Punch, but I went to America because I was getting bored of that way of doing things.

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