Artist Ralph Steadman Highlights Hunter S. Thompson’s Maddest Moments In ‘Ride The Thunder’ Exhibit

Longtime HST illustrator and sidekick Ralph Steadman is the subject of a mind-bending new art exhibit.

(Ralph Steadman)

Legendary gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson carved out a notoriously wild literary legacy before his death by suicide in 2005. Now, fans of the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas author can inhabit his artistic legacy though a new exhibition in the heart of the Berkshires. Last week, an expansive exhibition of artifacts, grounded in rare drawings by artist and longtime Thompson sidekick Ralph Steadman, were unveiled at the historic Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

(Ralph Steadman)

Titled “Ride The Thunder,” the new show includes dozens of Steadman’s illustrations, including numerous portraits from his biggest collaborations with Thompson, like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (which Rolling Stone published in 1971, well before Johnny Depp brought the story to life) and the fateful first foray that launched them both to fame: Thompson’s coverage of the “depraved and decadent” Kentucky Derby for Scanlan’s Monthly in June 1970.

“Faster, faster! Until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death,” reads one of Steadman’s drawings in “Ride The Thunder,” animating a Thompson quote from 1990.

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(Ralph Steadman)

In addition to his work with Thompson, Steadman also created visuals for a cookbook by Anthony Bourdain and designed the label for Mad Dog Brewery’s Raging Bitch IPA. “Ride The Thunder” pays tribute to the ongoing evolution of Steadman’s practice by including contemporary creations of his like 2022 portrait for rapper Jack Harlow’s latest EP.

Yet it seems impossible that any of these admittedly awesome accolades could overpower Steadman’s critical work with Thompson. Although he’s not the sidekick depicted throughout Fear and Loathing, Steadman has recalled in interviews that he and the writer were like Batman and Robin, a dynamic, if drug-addled, duo who helped society unpack the drug-fueled ’60s and ’70s, along with the failures of the hippie and countercultural movements.

Post Malone (Ralph Steadman)

Thompson’s legacy proves timeless in its import—if shifting in his perception. Thompson’s wife said he allegedly killed himself to leave the planet at the top of his game, but even that choice belied a certain fear, from a titan whom so many readers loved for his superhuman fearlessness.

As time goes on, future generations, however, may also come to love Thompson for his humanity. To that end, “Ride The Thunder” even features Thompson’s fax exchanges with Steadman over 15 years—courtesy of the show’s producer and allegedly avid Thompson proponent M.A. Cash. 

Jack Harlow (Ralph Steadman)

“I wanted to do this because a lot of people don’t know about Hunter these days,” he told Rolling Stone. “That just blows my mind. You haven’t really lived until you’ve gone down that rabbit hole.”

Co-producers of the Red Lion Inn’s first-ever art exhibit include Thompson’s widow Anita Thompson, Post Malone’s father Rich Post, Robert Kennedy III, and the nearby Norman Rockwell Museum. Local cannabis company Theory is an apt sponsor of the mind-bending show, timed to mark fifty years since Steadman and Thompson began collaborating. 

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