Do you remember the first time you ever looked at a piece of art and said to yourself, “Holy shit, this is beautiful. I get this. I relate” . . . or whatever it was that caused “that feeling” no matter what type of art it was?
I was working as a store artist at Tower Records in Philadelphia in 1990/91, producing store displays. drawing, painting — whatever it took. I still don’t know how I managed to get the job. My boss, Jim, came to me one day and said, “Your work reminds me of this guy Steadman…have you ever read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas?”
I said, “I don’t know what that is.”
The next day, Jim brought me in a copy. I’m not much of a reader as I am a “skim through the pages to look at the drawings type of guy.” I was blown away. I looked at these somewhat perfect, yet really dirty, hyperkinetic, mistakes-and-all drawings and got that “feeling.” There was no internet at this time so I had to hit the used book stores. I needed to see more of this “Steadman.”
I found a few, and that’s when I believe I went to “art school.” All through school I always drew. I was even awarded the classroom cartoonist award early on. When my father passed I was 19, I thought it would be a good idea to go to art school. Three weeks later, fueled by anger, resentment, and a student loan, i dropped out.
In 2000 the internet was starting to work. I found out Ralph Steadman was having a show in Colorado. I don’t remember how but through some folks help, I got there. I went to the gallery early — to just walk around and see the originals.They were intimidating. Inspiring. Beautiful.
I was told by the gallery owner that the opening was private and I was not going to be able to attend. I had come all the way from Philadelphia to meet my “Da Vinci” and to see the work of a living master. Ralph and his wife, Anna, walked in a few moments later. I was in shorts, sneakers and a t-shirt. But I had a backpack. And in that backpack I had a sketchbook and pen to give to Mr. Steadman, as a way of thanking him. Maybe he’ll even create some more with these gifts. Yes he didn’t know me, but he unknowingly helped me.
I’ll never forget Ralph hugging me and asking me if I liked the Beatles. He then went into the song “Your Mother Should Know.” We goofed off for a bit, then Ralph said, “Are you coming to the opening tonight?” — in your face, Mr. Gallery Owner.
There’s more to that story but let’s go to New York. Ralph was on a book tour. Hunter had just passed. I got some time to spend with Ralph at the gallery. I told him that I have tried not drawing like him, in his style, but it’s what I’m most comfortable with. His response was something to the effect of “America always makes a cheaper version.” But he also said to “keep drawing, keep fucking up — dedicate your life to making mistakes . . .If you enjoy what you’re doing, by all means keep doing it.”
Since then there has been contact with Ralph. Even some involvement with a drawing table, but that’s another story. This weekend is Ralph’s birthday and he turns a young 80-years-old. When I see his new work I can only think that he’s just getting started. There’s no stopping this very weird creative ball of fire.
I have seen a pattern in successful people who seem to have what I want. They are giving, selfless, down to earth and have an infectious good spirit about them. This is how I know Ralph Steadman. So for the inspiration, for the generosity, for the friendship, and for the body of work you continue to create:
A most happiest of birthdays to you.
Thank you Ralph Steadman and God Bless