A world-renowned artist whose works have graced the pages of Rolling Stone, The Observer and The New York Times, Ralph Steadman’s imaginative style of bold colors, bright ink spatters and poignant depictions of his subjects is instantly recognizable. Now through May 5th, the University of Kentucky Art Museum, part of the UK College of Fine Arts, is hosting “Ralph Steadman: A Retrospective,” which will include more than 100 of his original works.
Steadman is most widely known for his works in collaboration with Louisville-born writer Hunter S. Thompson, whom he met at the 1970 Kentucky Derby for their first collaborative work, “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved,” which appeared in Scanlon’s Monthly and received critical acclaim for both Hunter’s writing and Steadman’s artwork. Their working relationship evolved into a 35-year friendship and partnership, the product of which were such famous pieces as Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, for which Steadman provided the now-famous artwork, and numerous other pieces for Rolling Stone and other major outlets.
It was these types of collaborations between Thompson and Steadman that became the catalyst for “gonzo journalism,” a term used to describe one not simply covering a story from a third-person perspective, but completely immersing one’s self and becoming part of the story in order to write as a first-person account.
His catalog of work, however, goes much deeper. Included in his vast resume are cover artwork for albums by The Who, Frank Zappa and Ambrosia; illustrated editions of Alice in Wonderland, Treasure Island and Animal Farm; as well as satiric depictions of political leaders like Margaret Thatcher, Richard Nixon and Donald Trump.
Now 82-years-old, Steadman has maintained his relevance by transcending generations and genres. His more recent work includes the label design for popular Flying Dog Beer and cover art for Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho, a 2017 collaborative album by popular hip-hop artists Travis Scott and Quavo.
While Steadman’s work is well-known around the world, the artist has maintained possession of much of his original art, refusing to sell, but rather loaning portions of his archive for exhibits and showcases.
The UK Art Museum was selected as one of the few American venues for this internationally-touring exhibition, which was named by USA Today as one of the best exhibits at US museums in Winter, 2019. The showcase was originally curated by Anita O’Brien at the Cartoon Museum in London.
A full color catalog of the exhibit is available, as is an audio tour by Audible, which features commentary by Steadman, as well as actor Tim Robbins and curator Anita O’Brien. The exhibit can be viewed through May 5th: Tuesday-Thursday (10 am – 5 pm), Friday (10 am – 8 pm) and Saturday-Sunday (noon – 5 pm).
To learn more about the exhibit, visit finearts.uky.edu/art-museum or ralphsteadman.com