I tap on the sliding glass door to Ralph Steadman's studio, a large outbuilding adjacent to his fine Georgian house outside Maidstone, Kent. Inside is a scene of creative chaos — rickety easels, standing lights, broken electronic equipment, half-finished pictures, art materials galore. There are other rooms here, all jammed with similar artistic clutter.
I walk in lightly, fearful that one clumsy step or errant elbow will cause a catastrophic domino collapse of the great cartoonist's precious bric-a-brac.
Steadman, in heavy square spectacles, welcomes me warmly, but casually, like a pal he's seen moments before. At his worktop, pen in hand, he's struggling over that week's drawing for Will Self's Psychogeography column in The Independent. But, as I soon find out, it's not just this single cartoon that is troubling him.
Recently, Steadman, now 70, has completed a memoir about his 35- year friendship and intoxicating collaboration with Hunter S.
Thompson, which brought the world Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, gonzo journalism, and much more. Steadman began the book as he recoiled from the shock of Thompson's single head-shot suicide in Aspen on 20 February 2005, at the age of 67.
Churning over the emotional silt of what was a complex and, ultimately, iconic union has affected Steadman profoundly. A kind and sensitive man, he has discovered that so much of Thompson's impact on his life and career was as painful as it was fulfilling. This is Steadman's first interview to promote the book and maybe he is not quite ready. Hence, our talk is at times awkward and a little baffling as he mournfully trails off on fragmented anecdotes.
On a shelf above the worktop and on a wall opposite are two matching black and white photos of Steadman's artistic hero and inspiration, Picasso. He stares out at us with one oil-pool eye.