Far from the lean and manic look I’d imagined, the artist Ralph Steadman is more your non-aggressive businessman. Slightly tired, slightly rotund, with big bright hazel eyes.
' The kind of man old ladies might like.
‘Old ladies like me,’ he claims. ‘I like them.’ His drawing may be etched in blood, his illustrations of the newly republished Treasure Island may come from the land of greed and gore, but old ladies have vied with each other to see who could knit the most for the young Steadman.
We were talking about the dossy jobs artists and such do to support themselves. Visiting the old dears in Fulham was one. Before that, he cleaned wall-of-death motor bikes. Now this is the kind of stuff we expect.
And was also a rat catcher.
Honest, he says. Steadman never caught a single rat, but found one once, dead and quite withered under the studio floor. Didn’t smell at all. He stuck his hands in a silly balletic manner under his chin. ‘It was like this, I kept it, and called it “Rampant Hope Beneath the Boards”.’
But I’ve been told to ask about / Treasure Island, and Stevenson. I’m trying, 11m trying. I learn that the stench from a condor’s nest will knock a man unconcious, that in certain parts of Yugoslavia people go shopping by boat, and begin to suspect that channelling the thoughts
.' of Steadman would be like trying to ute the mind of 90d. t ‘The next book is going to be about God.’ He’s telling me. ‘I want a computer’. Why? Because you can feed all this stuff into a computer; facts, lies, beliefs, superstitions, proverbs, knowledge, a computer doesn’t know the difference, does it? And then you ask it questions. And .out comes ... Absolute garbage? Exactly: Bullshit! Could we talk about Treasure Island? Ralph Steadman is an obliging sort of bloke, and though he’s tired and not feeling very well, he’ll do so. Or maybe its because his publisher is sitting with us. It was not an Obsession. Illustrating Treasure Island was not 3 Something which Had to be Done. In fact, he read the
Fear and loathing on a Treasure Island? Kathleen Jamie tracks down Ralph Steadman in
Edinburgh to promote his new illustrated edition of Stevenson’s classic.
book first, only two years ago, to his .. young daughter. Stevenson is a good writer, an enjoyable if bloody yarn, so when the publisher called with the suggestion, he thought, there’s a coincidence. And did it. He couldn’t have been that disinterested, for he supplied twice the twelve illustrations asked for, and the originals are being exhibited in their own right. Were the . ~ publishers pleased with this? That gentleman nods and grins. , Delighted. Which is not surprising if you saw the rate at which they were disappearing through Wrater‘ston’s door in the arms of the public, signed and embellished i gold ink by a man who learned t raw via a corresponding; course while doing National Se ICC. / Didn’t he think the drawings were a wee bit over the top? Treasure Island is no longer a book to curl up ‘ with in the inglenook. In itself it’s not .allthat v’olent. .?
Itis, , adman reacts fast. It’s no different to these characters in the Carribean today, who think that a couple of murders is a small price to
A pay for the profit of drugs. These
were, are desperate men. Oh, he says, it gives me the willies. Imagine swallowing condoms full of cocaine , Imagine them bursting...
But Steadman says he would love to stage a musical Treasure Island with an all female cast. All female except the parrot, who should be of doubtful parentage and go about on 1h: shoulder of a very sexy actress with one leg tied up behind her. Ahhr, Jane lass!
And now he’s talking about Hunter S. Thompson who came to visit, and shatter the peaceful Kentish life. ‘A whale in a goldfish bowl’. Having drunk the place dry he went hairing about the hop-ﬁelds looking for drugs dealers.
But what about these illustrations? He wanted, of course to do something different. Previous artists have included Peake ... I saw a similarity and said so. An ill chosen word. He corrected me, languidly. Between Peake and Steadman there is an . afﬁnity.
He tells us the odd gem from Tory Party Conference, then drains the last of his Perrier water. The drawer of lacerations, amputations, avarice and blood is off to buy a trumpet for his daughter.
The List 1-14 November 5