“I really thought if I ever learned to draw properly, I would try and change the world for the better.”
That is the life goal of artist Ralph Steadman- best known as a political cartoonist and pioneer of gonzo journalism alongside Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson the voice, Steadman the vision.
The new documentary “For No Good Reason” chronicles Steadman’s career from his first trip to New York and meeting Thompson at the Kentucky Derby in 1970 to painting in his home studio in the English countryside today. The film, guided as a conversation between Steadman and longtime friend Johnny Depp, reveals the nature of Steadman and Thompson’s partnership with candid moments from footage throughout the years. Thompson appears boisterous, drunk or high and demanding against the sober, even keeled Steadman. However, as the film goes on, the tenacity of Steadman is revealed. Not as visibly rowdy as his counterpart, Steadman proves to be more focused—not just trying to cause uproar in a bar, but uproar in all of society.
Steadman’s inky and often grotesque images shout political beliefs and aim to call to attention the flaws and injustices of humanity. Splattering paint onto paper, he holds no inhibitions and brings forth his thoughts and emotions as he draws. Building line on top of line, splattering and erasing, the images formed are as raw and truthful as Steadman perceives the world in that moment. In the beginning of the film, Steadman demonstrates his method to Depp and creates a sad, frightful picture of an unloved pet. Steadman, not even fully conscious of his drawing until it is created, is disappointed by the ugly creature and the negative emotions it represents.
In explaining his art to Depp, Steadman says, “I go out of my way to make something that is as unexpected to me as it is to anyone else. If I knew what was going to happen before I started, what would be the point in doing it?”
For such a positive and cheerful person, many of Steadman’s drawings depict the darker side of man. Just as Thompson was controversial and abrasive through his actions and writing, Steadman puts no filter on his art, spewing out onto blank sheets radical and sometimes shocking portrayals without hesitation or fear of consequence. Steadman’s artistic limitlessness seems to have been a point of contention in his relationship with Thompson. While Thompson was rebellious, he didn’t seem able to go quite as far as Steadman.
Despite the pair’s disagreements at times, Steadman views Thompson as pivotal to his is career and life. On thinking back to his first encounter with the writer, Steadman states, “I was very lucky– I met up with the one man I needed to meet in the whole of America.”
Through decades of work and the loss of his partner, Steadman continues to cling to his pen and paints, using art as is weapon, still fighting to make the world we live in a better place. While the film itself is not as brilliantly executed as one might hope, exploring Steadman’s work is inspiring and will leave viewers wanting to make a change.