Ralph Steadman: A Retrospective

Cancelled due to COVID-19 public health crisis
(scheduled for June 12 – September 18, 2020)

Celebrating the career of one of Britain’s most important graphic artists of the last 50 years, Ralph Steadman: A Retrospective includes over 100 artworks that take viewers on a journey through the artist’s wide-ranging career, from sketches created in the 1950s, to book illustrations made over the following decades, to present-day work.  The exhibition, which has been making a limited tour across the US since 2018, continues its gonzo journey to Maine at the Bates Museum of Art.

Steadman is famous for his long collaboration with the writer Hunter S. Thompson, most notably providing the illustrations for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971), and helping to create what has since become known as ‘Gonzo’ journalism. Steadman has attained a cult status and has influenced many graphic and comic artists. His art has won him an international reputation for which he has received numerous awards. His own illustrated books have been translated into several languages and his work has been exhibited around the world. 

A work from the 1974 series The Rumble in the Jungle was recently rediscovered and added to the exhibition. Created in 1974 when Steadman and Thompson were on assignment covering the boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, the drawing will join two other works from the series, along with several others that have been added to the Bates exhibition.

The retrospective explores the full range of the artist’s work, including his earliest published cartoon from 1956, material from Private EyePunch, the Observer, the New Statesman, and Rolling Stone, plus illustrations he provided for literary classics such as Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland, and George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The retrospective includes selected drawings from Steadman’s Oddbins catalogue, humanitarian pictures, savage political cartoons, and some of his charming and funny illustrations for children’s books such as No Room to Swing a Cat. Selections of the extinct and imaginary ‘boids’ he created for Extinct Boids, works inspired by the television series Breaking Bad, images from Steadman’s most recent book, Critical Critters, and of course, portraits of Hunter S. Thompson and the artist are included. 

Ralph Steadman: A Retrospective was initially presented at the The Cartoon Museum in central London in 2013, and was curated by Anita O’Brien and Chris Miles. It has been presented at institutions including the American University Museum, Washington, DC; Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, University of Oregon, Eugene; and University of Kentucky Art Museum in Lexington. It is accompanied by a 160-page, full-color catalogue that includes forewords by actor Johnny Depp, journalist and critic Carlo McCormick, and artist Anita Kunz.

A unique and immersive free audio tour accompanies the exhibition, and is available for download at the App Store (search Ralph Steadman Audio Guide). The tour, which features the voices of Ralph Steadman, Tim Robbins, and Anita O’Brien, was created by Audible.

Rated by USA Today as one of the top US museum exhibitions for Winter 2019, Ralph Steadman: A Retrospective “…contrasts exquisite control with raw abandon.” The Washington Post, 2018 – 5 Museum shows you should see this summer.

“…the world is oddly brighter from his twisted, deafeningly beautiful approach.” Stephen Jackson, SF Weekly, Nov, 2018.

He is most assuredly a rare bird, dear Ralph…made up of many things, all of which beg to be found amongst the masterly demented brush strokes and very life’s blood of splattered exclamation that comprise his essential oeuvre.

A dearly beloved compatriot on the eternal battlefield of all things false and cruel. He is an icon, his topical, political renderings iconic, his mad jargon a paragon of artistic brilliance. – Johnny Depp

Don’t draw, Ralph! It’s a filthy habit. – Hunter S. Thompson

Ralph Steadman: A Retrospective is organized by the Ralph Steadman Art Collection.

The exhibition is generously sponsored by Audible, Flying Dog, and United Therapeutics.

All photographs are courtesy of the Ralph Steadman Collection.