Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Ralph Steadman Skype Talk

Recently the College organised a live stream with legendary illustrator Ralph Steadman, famous for his collaborative work with writer and coiner of the phrase 'Gonzo Journalism' Hunter S. Thomson. The Skype format was actually rather interesting. Instead of Steadman making an appearance in the lecture theatre, we were treated to a look around his studio, where he held up original works in front of the webcam. The session was very freeform, Ralph picking up pieces as he came across them, in a sense reflecting the chaos of his artwork.

There were a few key things I found very interesting and inspiring about Ralph's approach to creating art. Firstly, despite the heavily stylised aesthetic of his 'illustrations' (A phrase he dislikes as he believes it relates more to graphs and diagrams) he is grounded in the fundamentals. We were shown many pieces from his early life drawing practices, demonstrating a level of dedication and the sense that his practice in the arts has been a journey.

Ralph had also developed some interesting techniques for creating chaos on his blank canvases, à la Jackson Pollock. He told us that there are "no mistakes, just opportunities to try something different." This reminded my very much of the happy accident approach I try and adopt in my concept art to break away from generic compositions. This was illustrated further in the film For No Good Reason, where Ralph spends time with actor Johnny Depp, talking about his work and his relationship with Hunter. Ralph flicks a blot of ink across a black piece of cartridge paper, and announces that he can already begin to see the form of a Horse. This is the process where the human mind tries to make sense of chaos. An example often used is the way that we find shapes in the clouds. This approach gives a sense of excitement to Ralph's practice, he doesn't start out with preliminary sketches or have a clear visualisation of how the end result will look, he almost allows the process to guide him, rather than fighting and tussling with it.

Finally, Ralph injected a great sense of humour and political satire into his art. Much of his work criticises war, U.S politics, the human condition, amongst other issues. He works on the principle that his art genuinely has the power to change the world. It was inspiring to hear about the practices of such a pivotal figure in the illustration world. His artwork is original, relying strongly on bold chaotic markings with a flare for edgy humour and thought provoking subject matter. His presence really makes one think, what can be achieved through one's art? Is there merit for change within the media of concept art? Can games as a platform make bold statements similar to those made by legendary cartoonist Ralph Steaman? Is there something raw and visceral about working with traditional media, and should practicality (working fully digitally) cancel out the need for using raw traditional materials?

Ralph seems very connected with his work, blotting out wild ink splats with an orchestral conducter-like flick of the wrist, and then spraying fine clouds using a straw and his lips, scratching away and his layered up composition. There is something very primitive and animalistic about his approach, combined with technical prowess that lends itself to disciplined life drawing sessions. There is a clear synergy of chaos and elegance to his cartoons:

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