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Getting to know the artist behind Gonzo

April 25, 2014|By Steve Appleford, steve.appleford@latimes.com
  • Johnny Depp and Ralph Steadman walk together in the documentary "For No Good Reason," directed by Charlie Paul, who spent 15 years filming and talking with Steadman.
Johnny Depp and Ralph Steadman walk together in the documentary… (Courtesy of the…)

For decades, artist Ralph Steadman was author Hunter S. Thompson's main collaborator in the creation of Gonzo journalism, as it appeared in startling drawings in the books "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," "The Curse of Lono" and elsewhere. The art took a hilariously dark view of American politics and culture, with sometimes violent scenes with lizards and con men, and wild splashes of ink and red paint spattered everywhere.

Now 77, Steadman doesn't travel nearly as often, but works away in his cottage 90 minutes away from London, sending scans of his work into the world but never parting with original work. He's now the subject of a new documentary, "For No Good Reason," from director Charlie Paul, who spent 15 years filming and talking with Steadman. The film opens May 2.

The documentary features appearances by Gonzo devotee Johnny Depp, who grills the artist on his work and history on-camera, and includes vintage footage of Steadman in action with Thompson. During the course of his 15 years of visits to Steadman, the artist and filmmaker became close friends.

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"I wanted Ralph's work to reach a larger audience," Paul says of the motivations behind "For No Good Reason. "I felt he was misunderstood and not out there enough. I thought Ralph would see the world loving him and he'd be a happier man." Paul laughs. "It doesn't quite work like you imagine. Ralph is still grumbling away."

"For No Good Reason" is not a traditional talking heads documentary.

I wanted to make a film about Ralph's art, and Ralph's art is eclectic and there's loads of rough edges. It looks very polished and beautiful, but it's really kind of rough and dirty at the same time. So as a film technique, I wanted to emulate that same idea — all these weird cutout bits and pieces, but beautifully held together as a process of art in Ralph's case, and hopefully in the film. It's all there to reflect how Ralph works.

I also wanted to showcase Ralph's work without commentary. I didn't want to have talking heads saying, "This is what you're looking at, this is what you should think about this." I came from art college, and I was always worried about the way art was represented by intellects who can take these things and redress them according to how they think. I wanted to make something very open without experts.

You show several of his paintings being created over a period of time.

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