Over the course of several decades, writer Hunter S. Thompson and illustrator Ralph Steadman, partners in work (and sometimes in mischief), traveled together to report from Kentucky to Zaire to Honolulu. Why? “For no good reason,” the famed gonzo journalist often sardonically told Steadman, who recounts their adventures in a new documentary of the same title.
While the pair’s antics launched Steadman to international success, For No Good Reason centers on the art-making practices of this rather reclusive British artist. Unlike his late collaborator, Steadman has led a disciplined and drug-fee life in Kent, England. “We were like chalk and cheese,” the artist says in the film.
His caricatures, cartoons, and drawings depict human suffering and dread, always punctuated with sickly ink splatters. Such images provided the perfect complement to Thompson’s maniacal, self-sabotaging stories for Rolling Stone, Scanlan’s, and Running, and illuminated the novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Of his partnership with Thompson, Steadman notes, “I met up with the one man I needed to meet.”
The two were introduced on assignment in 1970—Steadman’s first trip to the United States—when Thompson was reporting from Louisville to write “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” for Scanlan’s. Steadman provided grotesque illustrations of racers and audience members alike, and the story garnered widespread attention for both men.
For No Good Reason, hitting theaters April 25, features interviews with friends and associates, including Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner and actor Johnny Depp, as they unpack how Steadman’s anarchic pictures gave a visual record of this celebrated collaboration.
The movie is the brainchild of director Charlie Paul, himself a visual artist. As a student at Byam Shaw School of Art in London, Paul had made a number of painstakingly detailed videos in which he recorded stroke-by-stroke documentation of artists at work. Paul then heard that his idol, Steadman, had long been videotaping himself in the act of creation, and he asked the illustrator to be a part of the project. Steadman politely refused, but Paul didn’t take no for an answer.
After a studio visit from the filmmaker, Steadman finally agreed to be recorded. Thus began a 15-year-long period of filming how Steadman’s images come into being. (He often starts with a single ink splatter and builds from there.)
“Ralph’s work is on the edge of going somewhere,” Paul tells ARTnews. “Ralph describes his work as ‘the moment a fly hits the windscreen of a speeding car’—so it’s completely still, but it’s also just been alive.”
A version of this story originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of ARTnews on page 21 under the title “Two Wild and Crazy Guys.”