Ralph Steadman – Alice In Wonderland

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?”

Gonzo In Wonderland

Gonzo In Wonderland


While most children derive pleasure from the pure prose of Lewis Carroll’s most well known work, adults try to decipher the reputed use of complex mathematical codes in the text or debate his alleged use of opium. Among the multitude of of characters – extinct, fantastical and commonplace creatures brought to life by Ralph Steadman’s frenzied, ink-splattered illustrations, Alice journeys through this Wonderland, trying to fathom the meaning of her strange experiences – turning “curiouser and curiouser”, seemingly without moral or sense. At every turn, Alice’s new companions scoff at her traditional education, readers can revel in the delightfully non-moralistic and non-educational virtues of this classic, this gives some insight to Steadman’s notoriously iniquitous illustrations in itself. The Mock Turtle, for example, remarks that he took the “regular course” in school: Reeling, Writhing, and branches of Arithmetic-Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.

Steadman’s Alice In Wonderland was first published in 1967 and is a remarkable departure from the original illustrations, remaining faithful to the book’s satirical tone while revealing the artist’s own passion for irony. Through his audacious and dynamic images, he breathes new life in the classic story with a modern illustrative approach. Steadman explains, “It is difficult to explain in words what the pictures are trying to say, and therefore my explanations are not precisely what I had in mind because they add shades of meaning which are not there. The reader can only interpret them in his own way, bringing his own observations to bear on the image he is looking at, so that he may agree or disagree with what I have tried to convey. When I set out to draw an idea, part of that idea is not yet formed and only takes shape and reveals itself as the drawing progresses. Consequently, the drawing acquires a life of its own and virtually takes over the direction it will follow – or so it seems.”

The Kind & Queen of Hearts by Ralph Steadman

The Kind & Queen of Hearts by Ralph Steadman


Steadman describes the picture above as, “The Monarch having evolved or developed into a shapeless mass of hangers-on, the State, H.M. Forces, the Church, the establishment walking on one pair of very well-worn legs. The King and Queen born into it and enveloped in it and lost in it, obliged to go through the motions automatically but surprising even themselves by their own outbursts.”
The White Rabbit by Ralph Steadman

The White Rabbit by Ralph Steadman


The artist says that his inspiration for The White Rabbit comes from todays commuter, “worried by time, hurrying and scurrying. Sane within a routine, slightly insane but more engaging when the routine is upset.”
A Mad Tea Party by Ralph Steadman

A Mad Tea Party by Ralph Steadman


He describes the Mad Hatter as, “the unpleasant sides of human nature. The unreasoned argument screams at you. The bully, the glib quiz game compère who rattles off endless reels of unanswerable riddles and asks you to come back next week and make a bloody fool of yourself again,” and says the March Hare “is always standing close by. The “egger-on” urging the banality to plumb even greater depths. He always seems to be around to push someone into a fight.” As for the Dormouse, Steadman says he’s, “Harmless and nice. The man anyone in the office can take a rise out of. If you tread on his face he will smile right back at you.”
The Card Guards by Ralph Steadman

The Card Guards by Ralph Steadman


Taking inspiration for his Card Guards from British workmen, “Bickering about who splashed who and standing in the stuff all the time anyway.”
The Pool of Tears by Ralph Steadman

The Pool of Tears by Ralph Steadman


Steadman explains that the animals in his illustration of The Pool Of Tears “remind me of people I know, rather as Lewis Carroll apparently created them around friends and associates. The reader can place his own interpretation on them. It was never my intention to set everything in concrete.”
Advice From A Caterpillar by Ralph Steadman

Advice From A Caterpillar by Ralph Steadman


And finally, defining the Caterpillar as a “young intellectual. Smoking hash, pedantic, who thinks he has something to say and sheds his opinions as easily as his skins.”

Check out some more Alice illustrations by Salvador Dali here. And more about our obsession with line drawing in general here.

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