The Mental Museum

Ralph Steadman’s Acid Bath

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Printmaker Ralph Steadman and best known today as Hunter S. Thompson’s accompaniment in the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas psychedelic madness. Thompson, an American Journalist and Steadman, an English cartoonist, had a long lasting partnership through which they collaborated on various articles and other works. Steadman’s coined style revolves greatly around caricatures of Thompson himself, depicted in their notorious journey to the Southwest.  This collection of Steadman’s work, Gonzo Art, stems from Thompson’s coined term of Gonzo Journalism – A style of journalism that invites reporters to involve themselves with their own story so much so that they themselves become the central plot. In addition to illustrating his own books  Grapes of Ralph, The Curse of Lono and others, Steadman has illustrated versions of famous works as Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, George Orwell’s Animal Farm and Ray Bradbury’s Fehrenheit 451. In addition, he has designed labels for the Flying Dog Beer Company and California’s Boony Doon wine. His most notorious label was banned by Ohio state censor due to a Zinfandel labeled Cardinal Zin and portraying a disgruntled bishop.  He has portrayed, in his own crisp and splattered ink style, William Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, Frank Kafka, Ernest Hemmingway, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, and Robert Graves among other intellects. A favorite  is an anonymous figure he calls The Camp Follower.  In Steadman’s description of this work, he states that as he was cleaning off his lithography plate, his cleansing chemicals reacted with the ink in such a way to form the outline of a man which he couldn’t bring himself to erase. “This character is a mystery to me. He emerged unbidden from the acid bath and I just hadn’t the heart to tell him to go away. He makes a graceful, if enigmatic enterence; rather like those uninvited guests, who stay for the meal. When the Cognac has been served, the phone rings and it’s for him. He disappears and when asked, ‘Who was that?’ the Host replies, ‘I haven’t the slightest idea! More Cognac anybody?” Aloof as his character may be, Steadman has managed to capture quite eliquently, a figure and caption that pays tribute to a Don Quixote.

The Camp Follower

Cardinal Zin


Written by thementalmuseum

April 16, 2008 at 7:16 pm

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  1. What I’m not clear about is whether the Camp Follower is an intentional homage to Cervantes’ Don Quixote or not. If anyone knows I would love to know as I am a huge admirer of both Cervantes and Steadman, and consider Steadman’s cohort Hunter S. Thompson to have been strangely Quixotic in his travails.


    January 9, 2010 at 2:58 pm

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