Ralph Steadman: Nextinction and Printin' Backwuds



Politically charged cartoonist Ralph Steadman Sits down for a quick Chat. talking about his new book ‘Nextinction’, and exhibition Printin Backwuds, featuring some of his most famous and unseen work

In a gallery packed with people swigging beer, and clinking bottles, the tangible wit and unmistakable character of Ralph Steadman somehow still manages to encapsulate the room. Whistling birdsongs and chatting charming, often nonsensical banter about the making of his recent book, the planets, the birds and the possibility of his next compilation he’ll entitle ‘Crooked Bastards’…the crowd hangs on to every word.

The man is beyond a legend. An icon who defined an era of renegade journalism and artwork. Fearless, playful, poetic, uncontrived, visceral and worthy, ten fold of his reputation and the admiration for which he still receives.

His trademark ink has been splashed across hundreds of newspapers, magazines, galleries and books across the globe. Famously best known for his long term friendship and collaborative work with wild Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson,  Steadman’s highly unique, politically charged, explicit and controversial cartoons make him one of the most recognisable and sought after commercial artists in the world!  In 2005 his work in the widely adored ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ series brought both him and Thompson global recognition. Leading them to being considered counter culture royalty.

His current exhibition ‘Printin Backwuds’ at Lazarides not only debut’s his new book of impeccably illustrated bird drawings with Ceri Levy for ‘Nextinction’, but also features 30 rare works from the artist’s archives. Including never-before-seen prints that have been counter signed by Hunter S Thompson, an exclusive, limited edition bronze ‘Vintage Doctor Gonzo’ sculpture and others that bare the bullet holes from the gun of William Burroughs.

In the flesh Ralph is beautifully mischievous and charming, and lucky for me… available for a quick chat! x

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TK: Your exhibition ‘Printin Backwuds’ contains what I can only imagine is a tiny snippet of all your work over the past 50 years. Do you remember your first cartoon? 
RALPH STEADMAN: Yes, it was the lock-keeper in middle England, during the Suez Canal crisis in 1956. The Canal Keeper is sitting in a deck chair reading the newspaper with the headline “Suez Crisis” on it and he’s saying, “Nassar, Who’s he?”

You famously begin all your sketches by splashing your ink across the page and letting the ink decide and narrate the outcome. Has this always been your process?
Yes, I have never been fond of the pencil, penciling in first. I like to see what happens.

Has there ever been, or is there a particular artist(s) who you were inspired by?
First of all Giles, then more radically George Grosz. He is cogent, perceptive , ironic and very anti-fascist.

In the 1970’s you became partners in crime and close friends with writer Hunter S. Thompson. You created together some incredibly iconic work together. How much impact did your time with him and that first taste of America have on your career?
Fundamentally life changing. I went out there and just happened to meet the one man in all the world I needed to. He could have been anyone else and nothing would have been unlocked. But something in him, set something free in me and changed everything!

You recently said spoke in your documentary ‘For No Good Reason’ about the loss of Hunter S.Thompson and the empty space you still have in the heart for him. Having been friends and worked so closely, do you still feel a part of him in your work today? 
Oh, yes, I can hear him saying “Stop that filthy scribbling Ralph”

What do you think he would have thought about ‘Nextinction’?
Ha! I think he would have said “I knew there was something weird about you!”

‘Nextinction’ illustrates the critically endangered, and even a few ‘endangered’ birds who desperately need saving. This is your second book about birds, not to mention you produced dozens of images for Animal Farm and a Book about Dogs and Cats. Would you consider yourself an animal lover? 
Very much so. They are wonderful. Not pet lover necessarily, but animal behaviour is fascinating. We have a nature window in our kitchen. It is interesting what they do. They are idiosyncratic and their persistent attempts to get things and reach things they want, like the squirrels who keep trying  to steal the birds fat balls despite my attempt to stop them by adding extra bars and barriers to the “Squirrel Proof” bird feeder.

There’s so much talk at the minute about bohemia and whether or not it can still exist? With so much already being done by yourself and others, do you think it’s possible today to still be shocking?
Yes, but in the nicest possible way. It would be rather funny to be rude politely if it hasn’t already been done.

You’ve been totally fearless throughout your career with your artwork. Your cartoons have been controversial, comedic, and on many occasions censored! Did you ever think ‘Shit, I’ve gone to far?!’
With a twinkle in his eye, I already know the answer.

Printin Backwuds
17 July – 13 August 2015
Lazarides | 22 Upper Ground, London, SE1 9PD
Mon-Sat. 11pm-7pm | Free Admission
NEXTINCTION: by Ralph Steadman and Ceri Levy
is available from WWW.BLOOMSBURY.COM  and
a portion of sales goes to BirdLife International to
help them prevent Nextinction

Words by Tracy Kawalik and Ralph Steadman
Photos by  Tracy Kawalik, Lazarides and Purple PR

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