Reimagining the American Crow

In the creative mind of Ralph Steadman, the corvid channels independence.

Following the English artist Ralph Steadman’s artistic process requires some creative leaps. To capture the American Crow, “I took the brush, dipped it in the ink, and wiped it on a piece of paper,” recalled Steadman, 79, who’s well known for his work with the gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. “That accidental flow upwards suggested an arm to me.” From there his mind jumped to . . . the Constitution. It’s a baffling bit of free association with a result that somehow makes perfect sense: the pushy assertiveness of the crow, spelled out in a declaration of selfhood.

This isn’t Steadman’s first bird—he’s done hundreds of them. In 2012 he published Extinct Boids, a compendium of species that are no more, and his new follow-up, Nextinction, deals with birds that are endangered (both books are collaborations with filmmaker Ceri Levy). To depict a bird, Steadman said, try to get the essence of the subject, and remember, “a mistake is an opportunity to do something else.” And that’s how you get an arm on a crow. “I hope it’s not being rude to the memory of Audubon,” he added, fretfully. Steadman may be one of the godfathers of gonzo, but he’s still English.

See samples from Steadman's upcoming book Nextinction here.