Ralph Steadman @ 77 Retrospective, the Cartoon Museum

Ralph Steadman at 77 is a retrospective currently running at the Cartoon Museum in Little Russell St., London, WC1A 2HH. Featuring over 100 of his works, most of them originals, from Punch, Rolling Stone, Private Eye and the Observer. His book illustration work is also featured with some of the incredible Alice In Wonderland/Through The Looking Glass images (see below), Leonardo, Fear & Loathing and various children’s books.

Seeing the originals of some of these classic (for me) images was amazing, his line work is incredible but it was nice to see the amount of white out where he hadn’t quite nailed it every time too. The real treat though, was seeing some of his earlier 60’s work that I wasn’t familiar with, a few incorporating colour imagery collaged into the background (see top). Another was an illustration of the infamous Rolling Stones drug bust but my favourite of all was a square print from 1967 called ‘Bedlam’. This circular design of what looked like a board game was unlike many of his works that I’d ever seen, tightly (typo)graphic with all his usual unhinged, unkempt flair reigned in.

Seeing original work like this is one of my favourite past times, with a connection in scale and technique that is rarely captured in the books the pieces were made for. The imperfections and corrections, staining, yellowed paper and sometimes pasted-on additions fascinate me in the same way as a making-of documentary. An artist’s early work, his or her formative years, are always the most interesting for me, the style signposts slowly emerging whilst others are discarded as they find their own direction. Steadman found his fairly quickly and has been mining the same vein for decades now but he’s one of the few that have kept pushing himself into new areas, thus keeping the ‘shock’ factor intact. After the satire and bile of the 70’s and 80’s caricatures he and Gerald Scarfe became known for he moved into promotion for Oddbins, the off-licence, and then on into children’s books, neither of which you would ever have dreamed his material suitable for.

The exhibition runs until September 8th so there’s still a month left to catch it. Entry ranges from £5-3 and children are free. The upstairs houses original art from a lot of classic children’s comics at the moment, the Beano and Dandy being well represented but also a couple of pages from vintage 2000ad too: a Mike McMahon Dredd and a stunning Massimo Belardinelli Dan Dare splash page. By coincidence, Dave Gibbons’ ‘Whaat!?’ piece from the Image Duplicator show also currently resides there too at the moment.

4 thoughts on “Ralph Steadman @ 77 Retrospective, the Cartoon Museum

  1. I met Ralph in 1977/78 when I was studying law in London. I asked him what he was working on. The next day he brought me an Alice print which he signed. I treasured it until it was stolen in 1985 or so. It hung nicely framed in my Wichita, Kansas apartments for nearly 30 years. I was a diminutive blonde with big beautiful eyes- not a threatening American. I wonder if he remembers. I lived At 6 Wandsworth Bridge Road at the top of New Kings Road. .

  2. I met Ralph Steadman in my local pub while I was studying law in London. I had curly long blonde hair and big beautiful eyes. At five feet I was not a threatening American. We laughed and talked a lot. I wanted to know what he was working on. The next day he gave me an Alice print which he signed. I treasured it until it was stolen. Kansas USA was better for it’s 20 year stay. That was 1977/78. I wonder I stop keeping me from writing f he remembers. He also gave me a copy of Dog’s Bodies which is uproarious.

  3. Great Ralph Steadman. I wish I could come to London only to see this exhibition.
    Great Ralph Steadman…

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