Gun Nut William S. Burroughs & Gonzo Illustrator Ralph Steadman Make Polaroid Portraits Together

Burroughs Steadman pics

Ralph Stead­man is best known as the artist who real­ized the gonzo vision of Hunter S. Thomp­son in illus­tra­tions for the latter’s books and arti­cles (and more recent­ly, per­haps, for the labels on Colorado’s Fly­ing Dog brew). His work has famous­ly appeared over the past sev­er­al decades in Punch, Pri­vate Eye, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone, and he pro­duced a bril­liant­ly illus­trat­ed edi­tion of Alice in Won­der­land. Like his friend Ger­ald Scarfe, anoth­er wicked­ly satir­i­cal car­toon­ist who cre­at­ed the look of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Stead­man has made sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions to the look of the coun­ter­cul­ture.


But while Steadman’s work with Hunter Thomp­son may large­ly define his career, anoth­er notable col­lab­o­ra­tion with a lit­er­ary fig­ure, William S. Bur­roughs, also proved fruit­ful many years lat­er. In 1995, Stead­man brought togeth­er his own illus­tra­tions with Bur­roughs love of guns, ask­ing the octo­ge­nar­i­an writer to blast holes in orig­i­nal Stead­man cre­ations.

Some of these paint­ings fea­ture the Polaroid por­traits of Bur­roughs above and at the top of the post (see a result­ing Steadman/Burroughs silkscreen print, with gun­shot holes, here). Just above, you can see Stead­man tak­ing the pho­tos. First, he makes some test shots with an assis­tant, then, at 2:50, we see him with Bur­roughs and an entourage. As The Inde­pen­dent described the meet­ing at Bur­roughs’ house in Lawrence, Kansas, it was some­thing of a “con­trived event,” with “swarms of assis­tants” and “acolytes” in atten­dance, “tap­ing the whole thing on video.”

Luck­i­ly for us, I’d say. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, we don’t seem to have video from lat­er in the day, when the group drove “out to Burrough’s friends place out­side town, where he does his shoot­ing.” Once there, “Bur­roughs, Stead­man and his wife Anna and Bur­roughs’ entourage take turns blaz­ing away with .33s, .45s, pump-action shot­guns and Sat­ur­day-night spe­cials at a vari­ety of tar­gets,” includ­ing Steadman’s art. That would be some­thing to see. We’ll have to set­tle for the art itself, and Steadman’s fas­ci­nat­ing demon­stra­tion below of his approach to por­trai­ture.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Hunter S. Thomp­son — and Psilo­cy­bin — Influ­enced the Art of Ralph Stead­man, Cre­at­ing the “Gonzo” Style

Break­ing Bad Illus­trat­ed by Gonzo Artist Ralph Stead­man

William S. Bur­roughs Shows You How to Make “Shot­gun Art”

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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