Ralph Steadman's Biography
Ralph Steadman was born in 1936. Having completed his National Service in 1954, during which time he completed the Percy V. Bradshaw Press Art School correspondence course, he moved to London and started work as a cartoonist. His first cartoon was published in the Manchester Evening Chronicle in 1956.
In 1959, frustrated by the limits of his skills, he enrolled at East Ham Technical College to learn the ‘discipline of drawing’. It was here he met his mentor, Leslie Richardson, who taught life drawing. 1960 saw his first appearance in Punch magazine, where he eventually progressed to cover design. In 1961, encouraged by Richardson, he enrolled at the London College of Printing. By this point he was beginning to find the demands of newspaper cartooning too restrictive:
‘Cartooning wasn’t just making a little picture and putting a caption underneath. It’s also something else – a vehicle for expression of some sort, protest, or it’s actually a way of saying something which you cannot necessarily say in words.’
In 1961 he wrote to the editor of newly founded Private Eye and began to explore a new, more provocative style, drawing on influences like George Grosz and John Heartfield. During the 1960s he illustrated several children’s books, including Fly Away Peter (1964 featured left), The Big Squirrel and the Little Rhinoceros (1965), The False Flamingos (1967), and The Jelly Book (1967), which he also wrote. His work was regularly appearing in New Society, Radio Times, Town, New Musical Express and the Daily Telegraph.
In 1967 he began work on his illustrated Alice in Wonderland, which won the Frances Williams Award in 1972.
His big break really came in 1970. Having published his first collected book of cartoons, Still Life with Raspberry, he set off to America to cover the Kentucky Derby for Scanlan’s Monthly, where everything would change on his meeting Hunter S. Thompson. Described as “a Hell’s Angel who had shaved his head”, Steadman set off to meet this maverick journalist at the Kentucky Derby. Together they would develop ‘Gonzo’ journalism, where you do not simply cover the story but become the story. So began a lifelong collaboration, including the iconic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which was originally serialized in Rolling Stone Magazine. Another lifelong association was begun, and Steadman is still listed as Gardening Correspondent for the legendary publication.
Between projects with Hunter, including Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trial ‘72, The Curse of Lono (1983) and Polo is My Life (1994), and numerous pieces for Rolling Stone, Steadman continued to produce his own books, including Sigmund Freud (1979), I Leonardo (1983), The Big I Am (1998), as well as children’s books such as That’s My Dad (1986), No Room to Swing a Cat (1989) and Teddy! Where Are You? (1994).
In 1987 Steadman was approached by Oddbins to travel the vineyards of the world and produce artwork for their catalogues. Between 1987 and 2000 he did just that, producing hundreds of artworks, many of which would eventually appear in his two award- winning books on wine, The Grapes of Ralph and Untrodden Grapes, and his book about whisky, Still Life with Bottle.
He has always diversified in his career, producing theatre sets for a ballet of The Crucible (2000) performed at the Royal Opera House; a production of Gulliver’s Travels (1995) for Clwyd Theatr Cymru; and an oratorio and images for an eco-opera, The Plague and the Moonflower, with music composed by Richard Harvey.
More recently he has illustrated three books about extinct and endangered birds and animals with co-Gonzovationist Ceri Levy, Extinct Boids (2012), Nextinction (2015) and Critical Critters (2017) as well as producing a set of portraits for the cult TV show Breaking Bad, which feature on its special edition DVD and Blu-ray. At the end of 2018 he also worked on visuals for the poster art for a brand new Broadway show, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus starring Nathan Lane.
In 2012 a film of his life and influences, 15 years in the making, called For No Good Reason premiered at the Toronto Film Festival to critical acclaim.
Ralph is still drawing and producing art today, working regularly for the New Statesman, The Independent and the New York Observer, as well as working on his own projects. He is a maverick and trail blazer whose art inspires and influences artists today.