Out of curiosity I made my way to the riverside and enjoyed a good part of what must have been an hour’s display of beautiful petards let off from a barge. I think it was some event organized by the now long-dead Greater London Council, but I do not recall any other details.
There was a good crowd milling about Waterloo Bridge and there were people going in and out of the South Bank Centre. I drifted with the crowd and came across an awesome and unforgettable exhibition. It was Ralph Steadman’s show entitled Between the Eyes. And boy that’s where this exhibition hit me.
It was the first time I had heard of Steadman and I never imagined that cartooning could be such an intense, violent and bloody business. And the subject matter was all so sober. Dead serious in fact.
There were angry collages about the (then) recent Falklands War, made up of tabloid headlines and glorious splatters in red ink. Drawings of African famines and wars; emaciated and broken refugee children. There were drawings from Steadman’s various visits to America, with drawings from the campaign trail; commissioned work from Rolling Stone magazine; and of course the fruit of his collaboration with the writer Hunter S. Thompson – most notably Steadman’s illustrations for Thompson’s memorable novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Then there was the perfect draughtsmanship of his Alice in Wonderland illustrations. All in all I think there must have been over a hundred works covering most of his career up till that time. I was well and truly gobsmacked.
I returned to see the show the next day to make sure I had not dreamt up this glorious, apocalyptic vision. I bought the exhibition book and it remains one of my highly prized possessions to this day.
I had been drawing regularly for some four years before I saw this exhibition – trying out various styles, techniques and themes. After viewing Between the Eyes I realized that cartooning (in its widest possible sense) was what I really wanted to do – and that’s what I have been doing ever since.