“Line for line, the writing in Vegas is a high-speed minor classic—and beyond that, it’s the definitive epitaph statement for the Benevolent Drug Era of the 60s. We are heading for a far more vicious time. We are already there, in fact, but it won’t become generally obvious for a year or so” (Hunter Thompson, letter to editor Jim Silberman, 12 July 1971).
STEADMAN, Ralph (b.1936). “The Audience”, an original drawing for the first publication of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, 1971.
Pen and ink drawing (490 x 250mm) on strong paper (545 x 443mm), signed (“Ralph Steadman”) in the drawing; within a black felt-tip border and with touches of correction fluid; with a penciled caption below the drawing (“Couple grope during Dope Film”) and with, in another hand, production instruction in blue pencil below the drawing (traces of old adhesive, showing through lightly in the margin from the verso onto the recto); mounted, framed (790 x 690mm) and glazed (not inspected outside of the frame). Provenance: Jann Wenner, to the consignor.
A very rare original drawing for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Thompson’s landmark of counter-culture literature, and one of the most memorable and hilarious critiques of contemporary American society. It appears to be the first time that any original artwork from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas has been offered at auction; we could find no record on Artnet or RBH. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was first published in two consecutive issues of Rolling Stone magazine; this drawing was used to illustrate the front cover of Rolling Stone number 96 (25 November 1971), in which the second part was published: Thompson’s account of the Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. The published cover features the caption: “The sight of a 344-pound police chief from Waco, Texas, necking openly with his 290-pound wife when the lights were turned off for a Dope Film was just barely tolerable”. Thompson expands in the text: “with a head full of acid, the sight of two fantastically obese human beings far gone in a public grope while a thousand cops all around them watched a movie about ‘the dangers of marijuana’ would not be emotionally acceptable. The brain would reject it”.
Steadman and Thompson’s partnership in this work stands as one of the most effective collaborations between artist and author in the history of book illustration. As with John Tenniel’s drawings for Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, Steadman’s designs do far more than simply illustrate the text: they elucidate it and have become inextricably linked with it. Steadman’s grotesque hallucinations and Thompson’s restless ravings are perfectly attuned, the frantic energy of one magnified by that of the other to create a supremely distinctive work with overwhelming conviction and clarity of vision. In a letter to editor Donald Goddard, Thompson reflects on an early collaboration with Steadman, and on the impact that Steadman had on his own work: “his awkward sensitivity made me see, once again, some of the rot in this country that I’ve been living with for so long that I could only see it, now, through somebody else’s fresh eyes” (27 May 1970). With: a certificate of authenticity signed by Ralph Steadman; a certificate signed by Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner confirming that this drawing was reproduced in Rolling Stone; and a copy of Rolling Stone issue number 96.