Fear and Blotchings in
The Old Town
RALPH STEADMAN is back in town with another exhibition of his vitriol-lashed illustrations. The man who drew the dark side of R.L. Stevenson talks to Stephen Chester about split personalities, guns and infamous American journalists.
unter S. Thompson (Dr of Gonzo Journalism) is continuing his experiments with art and firepower when there’s a bit of an accident. The notorious drug fiend and scribe has enlisted his old friend Ralph Steadman. who’s staying out on Hunter’s Aspen
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ranch for a few days. to make a few targets you see, and they’re made of acetate and cut out in the shape of Hunter wearing a sheriff’s uniform. In front of the target there’s an ink bottle. and Hunter is firing at it with the riﬂe. standing on top of a farm tractor so he can get a better angle. The exploding ink throws an
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interesting pattern on the acetate. suggestive of the sort of much-mimicked splodges which are instantly recognisable as the Steadman mark. Okay. so it might sound like the two boys have drunk too much and they‘re getting silly with guns but this is serious: it‘s all about Art. Violence. Chance. Collaboration.
Then Hunter tires and because the ink is running off the acetate he jumps down and runs to the target to hold it up horizontally and create more interesting dribbles. Unfortunately. in his enthusiasm he forgets about the loaded riﬂe and drops it to the ground — the riﬂe discharges and sends a round through the tractor‘s petrol tank. Another few inches and one of the era’s finest writers and one of its best artists might have ended up as one of the latter‘s notorious splots made ﬂesh. Albeit somewhat charred ﬂesh with a significant proportion of blood mixed in.
It’s a great Hunter S. Thompson anecdote. and doubtless there’s a good few more he could tell, but I‘ve met Steadman to talk about Edinburgh’s favourite son Robert Louis Stevenson. the centenary of whose death is celebrated by a series of exhibitions around the city. The
National Library’s Pictures 0f the Mind exhibition is dedicated to illustration of Stevenson’s work and includes some of
Steadman's own work for Trmszw Island.
‘Everybody in Treasure Island comes out hideous. Human nature in the raw. That’s a wonderful book to write,
Steadman is a great story-teller and writer of
children‘s books. but the Hunter story has more relevance than mere evidence of his abilities as a raconteur. From the illustrations for Thompson‘s own Fear And Loathing In 1113'
Vegas to our very own List cover. your ﬁrst
impression of a Steadman picture is that of overwhelming violence. perpetrated by someone currently receiving care in the community. The violence appears not only in the characters. with their manic, staring eyes and contorted bodies. but is also apparent in the rage which seems to have initially fuelled the pictures: the broad strokes. the uncontrolled splashes of ink and the Cubist—like multiplicity of alternatives contained within each frame. Now that’s not to suggest that Mr Steadman is in any-way a bit of a loon — in fact a nicer, more laid back and charming chap it would be harder to find — but it does show why he would be the
8 The List 19—25 August 1994