Friday, February 14, 2014

Ralph Steadman Interview

This morning the college hosted an interview via Skype with prolific British artist Ralph Steadman. Steadman is perhaps most well-known for the illustrations he produced for Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but his work has been used for many things from stage costume designs to beer bottle labels. He has also produced illustrations for a number of classic stories like Alice in Wonderland, and manages to imbue these well-known images with his recognisable, darkly amusing style.

When I first came across Steadman's art I was instantly struck by his loose, unplanned style and how each of his pieces has a 'mischievous' quality - as he said in the lecture, he believes keeping in touch with that childlike naughtiness and being unafraid to express this through drawing is what keeps work fresh and interesting.

Through the interview he showed us a wide range of his drawings, from those he produced as a student up to studies he created whilst travelling for research for one of his many book projects, like I, Leonardo (1983) and Sigmund Freud (1997). Whilst describing these drawings, he made it apparent that he values a sense of spontaneity and rebelliousness in art - he said that this is what gives work an 'edge', and after all if there is no edge in a work, and it doesn't excite him, then what would it do for someone else?

He reiterated the fact that his art isn't necessarily for anything, and there doesn't have to be any reason behind it, though it does have to evoke an emotion otherwise there is no point. His works are frequently darkly amusing with serious undertones that inform the viewer of important issues, most notably in work he has produced for charities, like the below image for Homeless International named 'Christmas Dinner 1930'. He is often quoted as saying that he wished to use his drawing skills to 'change the world for the better'.

I admired the way that he described his approach to drawing, likening it to an adventure where there are 'no such thing as mistakes'. He never pencils in his work first, preferring to immediately use ink and make 'splats', which reveals possibilities on how to progress the work. He described it as being a dialogue with the paper, where the artist manipulates mediums without a particular method behind it but uses this to a creative advantage.

At this point he talked about how he doesn't like work that is produced entirely digitally, as it lacks texture and raises the risk of becoming 'mechanised'. However he did say that the computer can be used as a tool to aid the process, as long as the artist fights against that over-digitised flatness. I could definitely relate to what he said here, as I often feel that the work I produce traditionally is much more visually appealing than that I produce digitally, simply for the added texture and hand-drawn 'feel' of it. However in being aware of it, I'm able to experiment and use the digital tools to create that textured appeal that traditional art has.

Towards the end of the interview various students went up to ask questions, one of the questions being how to accept the inevitable mistakes that happen when making art. Steadman again said that you can't make mistakes, and that being an artist is about being 'slovenly, clumsy and messy'. Disregard the rules and regulations and be true to yourself, and don't think about what other people want to see or what is commercially viable. He said that when he was working with Hunter S. Thompson, his mantra for the creation process was 'for no good reason'. Just create, and enjoy the process of creating.

As words of advice to us students, he said to 'dedicate yourself to making mistakes that matter', which I found really quite moving, as even though it is advice that is exchanged frequently through the art community it seemed to mean a lot more when hearing it first-hand from such an established illustrator who's work exists because of his rather rebellious and chaotic approach to it. Mistakes are inevitable, but don't erase them - use them as a new way to progress the piece. In terms of drawing, he said to develop a flow and rhythm, and to 'pretend to be a conductor' in the way that you move your arm to get that loose but strong line that is so prevalent in his work.

Much of the creative work I really admire all have a similar spontaneous and rather dark quality - for example, the work of Gerald Scarfe or Francis Bacon - yet I've never managed to express it in my own art. I really would like to, in my own time, create more illustrations which 'externalise myself onto a page' as Steadman put it. I feel that having this approach in concept design for my Extended Project will also help to give the look of my final animation a certain individualistic edge.

Attending this lecture has really inspired me to rethink my current mindset when it comes to drawing. I allow myself to get too bogged down in technicalities, focused on mimicking the work of artists I admire to the detriment of my own personal 'voice'. I have lost a lot of the childlike adventurousness I used to have with my art, and I really want to change that. Steadman clearly has never lost his sense of individuality in his career, or the idea that the creation process of each of his pieces is an unfolding adventure - and his work is much more engaging for it. I really hope I can apply this more to my own work.

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