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Tom Benton & Hunter S. Thompson – The Art of Freak Power

February 22, 2009

“What we really need is a riot. This would not only justify the purchase of gas, firebombs, electric zappers and various armored equipment – it would also give Aspen the modern, up-to-date image that it vitally needs. We are fortunate in having people like the sheriff and Guido and Bugsy around, if only to keep a rein on dangerous waterheads like Tom Benton.” 

Hunter S. Thompson (On behalf of Martin Bormann) – Letter to Aspen Times & Aspen News March 9, 1968

One of the most intriguing events in the history of Gonzo Journalism has to be the collaboration between Hunter and Tom Benton that produced the now infamous Aspen Wallposter Series.  In late 1969 Hunter decided that the political scene in Aspen needed a good shaking up, so he persuaded Joe Edwards to run for mayor on the “Freak Power” ticket. Although the campaign got off to a late start, the Freak Power candidate lost by only one vote. Hunter couldn’t believe how close they had come to overthrowing the fatbacks in Aspen. The following March he decided to launch bis own campaign for sheriff of Pitkin County. The Wallposters proved to be the ideal way to promote his unique brand of politics – the front carried Tom Benton’s eye-catching art and the reverse served as a platform for Hunter to outline his policies and take shots at the greedheads he was opposing. It was here that the Gonzo Logo made its first appearance, featuring on Wallposter #5 – better known as the Thompson for Sheriff poster.

Aspen Wallposter #5

Aspen Wallposter #5

Tom Benton also created the original cover for Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail along with various campaign posters for over 30 candidates including Gary Hart, George McGovern, and Willie Brown. He also produced numerous “cause” posters for local benefits, non-profits, and charitable causes. In the 1980’s and 90’s, Benton worked part time as a jailer for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Department and continued to create artwork including re-election posters for Sheriff Bob Braudis.

campaign8

According to Aspen Sheriff Bob Braudis, “Benton was heavily intellectual and understood the threat that speculators were to our environment before anyone else. Throughout his career Tom remained steadfastly loyal to rock solid values and committed to sending his political message through his art.” Sadly Tom Benton died from lymphoma on April 27, 2007.  However I am delighted to inform everybody that there is a project underway to catalogue Tom’s work over at http://www.bentonbook.com and you can also order silkscreen prints and Aspen Wallposters over at http://www.tomwbenton.com. The prints are also on display at the Woody Creek Community Center (WC3). A book that covers Tom’s work is scheduled to come out later this year, published by our Gonzo friend George Stranahan. George started the project to catalogue Tom’s prints and was a patron and fan of Tom’s art. I would highly recommend that you take a few moments to not only check out Tom Benton’s Gonzo artwork but also take some time to examine his other work which is really inspiring and beautiful. Here is an example from his poetry series.

Finally for those of you who want to refresh your memory on the Aspen Wallposters and Hunter;s run for Sheriff check out Freak Power In The Rockies originally published in Rolling Stone but also to be found in The Great Shark Hunt. I leave you with another image from the Wallposters – can you imagine what the land developers thought of this?

Yr. friend,

Rory

PS: Thanks to DJ for the heads-up on the project.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 23, 2009 12:25 pm

    Ron, thanks again. I’m becoming a bit of a compulsive reader of this wonderful blog… I thought I knew everything about Thompson’s work and all related aspects of Gonzo, but you constantly provide me with new information.

    I know a lot about the political campaign and the idea and influences of Gonzo, but I was totally unaware, somehow, of Tom Benton. I have the Gonzo fist tattoo’d on my arm! Wow. I thought I was a bit more knowledgeable than that…

    Well, here’s some news in the pipeline for you… I’m working on my own book about Hunter S Thompson that I don’t really care to discuss here (it’s quite innovative) but I’ll keep you informed. It’s going to break with the constant run of biographies and tell-alls that keep coming around since his death.

    All the best,
    David
    http://www.beatdom.com

  2. Ron Mexico permalink*
    February 24, 2009 11:06 pm

    Looking forward to reading your book David, whenever you want to discuss it just send word.

    Ron

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