Humour and humanity bleeds through every page in ‘Ralph Steadman: A Life in Ink’


Ralph Steadman: A Life in Ink
Ralph Steadman, 320 pgs, Chronicle Chroma,, $77

Ralph Steadman has been developing his own idiosyncratic approach to drawing and painting for six decades. Combining tortured caricature, precision linework and spontaneous splashes of paint, his work leaves you an equally polarizing and contradictory sense of unease. The gestural violence and often moral disgust with which he treats his subject matter can be downright disturbing. Yet somehow, the artist’s warm humour and humanity bleeds through every page.

A Life in Ink is a sizable hardcover monograph that takes on the considerable feat of condensing a prolific career into a single volume. The book includes a brief foreword and interview with the artist, but mostly lets the full-page images speak for themselves. The greatest hits are all here: illustrations for Animal Farm, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and earlier drawings for Alice in Wonderland. But what makes this book essential for Steadman fans is the inclusion of preliminary sketches, collages, and abstract work from the late ’50s, as well as contemporary political cartoons and portraits of everyone from Björk to Boris Johnson.

Steadman has described his creative drive as “a duty to Confront the Menace — whether that be your local constable or the President of the United States.” He is one of the quintessential outsider artists of his generation, and A Life in Ink shows him to be very much at the height of his powers today, soaking up the world around him and vomiting its vulgar hopes and fears back onto the page for all to see.