I dated a couple of art history majors and was always out of my depth when it came to talking art. I mean the kind of art that hangs on walls and gets displayed in galleries. I could throttle just about anyone in a serious literature discussion, or so I told myself, but when it came to staring at a painting or a sculpture and trying to explain why it did or didn’t move me, I was beyond clumsy.
But I do know who my favorite artist is, I’m just not sure why.
The first time I saw Ralph Steadman’s work was when a sibling gave me a copy of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, illustrated by Steadman.
I looked at it and I saw something that spoke to me enough to keep me turning all of the pages just to look at the pictures. I keep coming back to it and still don’t know how to describe exactly what appeals to me. I’m not even sure that “appeals” is the correct word. I actually find most Ralph Steadman art highly unsettling.
Compelled is probably more accurate, or at least, if I catch a glimpse of his books on my shelf, I can’t help but take it down and look at it.
Regardless, I’ve chased down as many of his illustrated books (he has also authored many of his own) as I can find. My favorites so far:
- Animal Farm
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through The Looking Glass
- The Curse of Lono by Hunter S. Thompson
- Gonzo: The Art
- Treasure Island
And the more I write, the more I realize that I am incapable of giving you any sort of Ralph Steadman Appreciation course, because I just don’t have the words to say here’s why you should or should not appreciate it.
Maybe that’s what makes great art, although I’m sure each of those art history majors I was wooing with a vengeance could have given you an interminable, polysyllabic avalanche of technical and historical reasons for why I was feeling what I was feeling.
One other quick note on Steadman: he illustrated Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and occasionally went out with Thomson on writing assignments. In The Great Shark Hunt there is a hilarious essay about them attending the Kentucky Derby. They wind up in a bar fight after Steadman agrees to do some caricatures of the bar’s inhabitants.
I can speak a bit more eloquently about Sowa’s work, but I’m not going to try. Instead, I’ll just show you the print that I have framed in our living room. It makes me feel good every time I see it. Maybe the words don’t matter.
So, how about you? Don’t limit yourself to a medium. Do you have a favorite artist? Can you explain why he or she is your favorite?