Gonzo Gallery and Thomas W. Benton Update

Hi folks,

First of all a belated Happy New Year to you all! Lets hope 2014 is a good one to everybody.

I know updates have been few and far between in recent months, which is due to the amount of PhD related work that I have been wading through. As my thesis is now in the final stretches I hope to be able to devote a little more time to the site this year, not to mention finally finish that damn PhD once and for all.

Anyway, I have been in touch with DJ Watkins recently and he was kind enough to update me on changes to the official Gonzo Gallery and Tom Benton websites.

Here is what he had to say:

The Gonzo Gallery is now officially broadcasting from www.gonzogallery.com. Artwork by the usual cast of characters – Thomas W. Benton, Ralph Steadman, Hunter S. Thompson, and William S. Burroughs – is now online including work that’s never been available for purchase before. 
 
We also decided to leave behind the old Thomas W. Benton website and showcase his work in a lavishly post-modern style at www.tomwbenton.com. Unlike our previous, quasi-analog site, you can actually purchase original prints and paintings now.  
 
And if two new websites weren’t enough, curators, important curators, who stand as pillars of artistic acumen have chosen to include The Gonzo Museum in the Art Genome Project (Think Pandora for artwork) and feature the Museum on their website Artsy. Thus, Gonzo joins the illustrious ranks of The Getty and The Guggenheim in the annals of art history proving that savage genius will survive in an era of reality television and Snapchat. 
I have said it before and I will happily say it again – DJ Watkins has really done a sterling job on the above. Delighted to hear about the Art Genome Project and it is a testament to the fine job he has done in bringing the collections into the digital age. A lot of this material would be simply unavailable to people if it wasn’t for DJ and his dedication. He also has some more plans in store for 2014 so stay tuned to find out more.
All the best,
Rory

Review – Thomas W. Benton: Artist/Activist

Thomas W. Benton: Artist/Activist 

This stunning coffee-table compilation of Tom Benton’s art is a treasure trove of material that is of huge significance to not only political art history, but also the history of Gonzo Journalism.

Many of you are of course already familiar with Benton through his collaboration with Hunter S. Thompson on the Aspen Wallposters and his striking skull design for the cover of Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72. Yet to date Benton’s work has remained largely inaccessible, with the Aspen Wallposters proving to be particularly elusive due to their scarcity and the high price that they command on the rare occasion that they become available on the market.

Since I started this website just over three years ago, I have been inundated with enquiries regarding the Aspen Wallposters. I think it is fair to say that Benton has been criminally overlooked, not just in relation to his collaboration with Hunter S. Thompson, but also in terms of his contribution to protest art and political activism both at a local and national level.

In this sense, full credit must go to Daniel J. Watkins for undertaking the mammoth project of cataloguing over 500 pieces of art spanning five decades of Benton’s career, a task that involved traversing the length and breadth of the country in search of these prints, all of which were produced in limited unnumbered runs. No mean feat.

From this wider collection, Watkins has selected 150 prints divided into sections representing the evolution of Benton’s career, from his first posters as advertisements for various businesses and events in Aspen, through his political activism and collaboration with Hunter S. Thompson, to his later foray into abstract monotypes and oil paintings. The final section showcases the four buildings that Benton designed and built in Aspen.

Considering that my knowledge of art is fairly limited, I must admit that my initial interest in this book was based solely on the fact that the Aspen Wallposters were finally going to be widely available to the Gonzo community. In many ways they remained one of the final pieces of the Gonzo jigsaw that had yet to fall into place, which is pretty remarkable given the prominent role they have played in relation to Thompson’s infamous Campaign for Sheriff of Aspen, as detailed in his Rolling Stone article The Battle of Aspen – Freak Power in the Rockies. However, the influence of Benton upon Thompson, and vice versa, goes far beyond this collaboration, a fact that is evident from the very first image presented in this book – A stark ,volatile, grey and white print emblazoned with the words – ‘The Garden of Agony – Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here.’ The footnote informs us that ‘The Garden of Agony’ was the name of Benton’s studio.

Any doubt that Benton was cut from the very same cloth as Thompson, certainly in a political and philosophical manner, are firmly laid to rest by the inclusion of Peggy Clifford’s excellent interview with Benton at the beginning of this book. When asked about his thoughts on American people in general, Benton replied – ‘Most of them are robots. When I go to Los Angeles and I see those people content with smog and congestion and not rebelling, I have to think they they’ve been brainwashed.’ On his opinion of the corporate interests taking over Aspen he states – ‘I think they are going to win. I’m a pessimist, but I’m not a pacifist. I think you ought to take your cuts at them. If you’re going to go down, go down fighting.’

 Given the deep affection for Aspen that was central to Benton’s creative drive it is unsurprising that he found the perfect platform of expression through the medium of campaign posters centred on local politics (and later on a national level). What is intriguing about many of these posters is the manner through which Benton’s aesthetic approach integrated political slogans with powerful visual symbols of the natural beauty of the Aspen wilderness. Of course there are exceptions, such as his poster for the Woody Creek Caucus which is emblazoned with one of the greatest political slogans I have ever seen (the hallmark of a certain Doctor that lived there).

Indeed it is of course the Gonzo section of the book that showcases the most recognisable aspect of Benton’s political art. The content included here is a rare treat for any fan of Hunter S. Thompson with the aforementioned Aspen Wallposters taking centre stage (all of which fold-out from the book). Their inclusion marks the first time that all six posters, each including Thompson’s writing on the reverse, have been made available since the original run of prints in 1970. I don’t want to spoil the details so all I will say is that the posters and accompanying text is pure vintage Gonzo at its best. To finally have this material is to fill a gap in the Gonzo narrative that has been there for far too long. Yet this is not the only Gonzo material that Watkins has included here, with an original voter registration poster for the Thompson for Sheriff campaign also featured, together with an article from The Aspen Times on the “Scurrilous Sheet” by Benton and Thompson and finally the two-page advertisement from Scanlan’s magazine in relation the ill-fated Nixon Wallposter.

 Benton’s collaboration with Thompson on the Aspen Wallposters appears to have been a seminal event in his artistic development, certainly in terms of influence carried forward in relation to his political art. The activism section of the book clearly illustrates this, with many of Benton’s prints echoing his work with Thompson, which is perhaps facilitated by the subject matter – a thorough disdain for Richard Nixon and American foreign policy.

 Overall this book is a testament to a man who not just embodied artistic vision, but who also had the courage and the passion to use his gift to make his feelings known in a world where speaking up is frequently rewarded with being shot down. Benton’s art tells a story, not just about a single cause or person, it is multi-faceted – at once portrait of a life, a city and a nation.

EDIT: You can buy the book here.

Thomas W. Benton: Artist/Activist – Signing tonight in Tattered Cover Denver

Heads up to those of you in Denver! Full review of this wonderful book to come tomorrow (I promise)

 

Colorado artist and journalist Daniel Joseph Watkins will offer a slide show and sign his new book Thomas W. Benton: Artist/Activist ($39.95 People’s Press), a collection of 150 images of artwork by silkscreen artist Thomas W. Benton. Benton’s posters cataloged political movements and elections from 1968 to 2006 and are a powerful visual account of the issues and campaigns that shaped history. Watkins’s book includes never-before-published images of the Aspen Wallposters, a collaboration of Benton’s art and Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s writing that promoted their Freak Power movement. The book also includes Benton’s commercial work in Aspen as a signmaker/printmaker, his architectural projects in Colorado, and ten poems by close friend and lyricist Joe Henry.Request a signed copy: books@tatteredcover.com
Location:
1628 16th St.
Denver

, Colorado80202United States

Thomas W. Benton: Artist / Activist

Thomas W. Benton: Artist / Activist

By Daniel Joseph Watkins

Hi guys – delighted to bring you details of this fantastic new book by Daniel Joseph Watkins. Below is the press release and I will have a review up tomorrow.

Ok for now,

Rory

Launch event and signing are this week

 

Nationally recognized poster artist Tom Benton visually documented the issues and conflicts of Aspen and America for four decades beginning in the turbulent late 1960s. Two years after Benton’s death in 2007, Daniel J. Watkins embarked on a journey “into the barns and basements and attics of old Aspen,” according to the Aspen Daily News, to unearth and catalog more than five hundred of his works, many of them previously unknown.

The result is Thomas W. Benton: Artist/Activist, a coffee-table book that chronicles the life and political activism of the artist with 150 images of his work. Artist / Activist follows Benton from his early days in Aspen, which he considered a kind of Shangri-la threatened by money and development, through his disillusionment with politics and experimentation with different art forms.

In conjunction with the Aspen Art Museum, there will be a book release party on WednesdayJuly 13 at the Sky Hotel from 5-7 p.m. Featuring original Benton works, food, drinks and a discussion with associate curator Matthew Thompson, this event is open to the public.

On Saturday, July 16, join Watkins at Explore Booksellers at 7 p.m. for a book reading, and question and answer session.

Cataloging political movements and elections from 1968 to 2006, Benton’s silkscreen posters are a powerful visual account of the issues and campaigns that shaped history. In addition to numerous candidates and issues in Aspen, Benton created political posters for presidential candidates George McGovern and Gary Hart, and against President Nixon.

The book includes never-before-published images of the Aspen Wallposters, a collaboration of Benton’s art and Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s writing that promoted their Freak Power movement. Benton’s later works, including abstract silkscreens, monotypes and paintings, are also explored in relation to the artist’s life and philosophies. Artist / Activist also documents Benton’s commercial work in Aspen as a signmaker/printmaker and architect.

The first major collection of Benton’s artwork to be published, Artist / Activist also includes ten poems by close friend and lyricist Joe Henry, a foreword by George S. Stranahan, and an introduction by art history professor Hal Elliott Wert. Watkins’ catalog of Benton’s work plus a blog can be found online at www.bentonbook.com.

“Tom Benton integrated strong and powerful graphic symbolism into the political fray of our times. His simple yet monumental approach to what needed to be said gave a voice to those who wished to be seen and heard. He remains a powerful example of commitment in a world gone wrong.”

—Ralph Steadman, Gonzo artist

“Tom Benton’s avant-garde anti-war, cause, and political posters place him in the center of a small number of great propaganda artists of the last century. Even those quite knowledgeable of poster art will be treated to dozens of posters rarely seen, if at all. This well-designed book is a major contribution to the history of political art.”

— Hal Elliott Wert, Kansas City Art Institute history professor, author of Hope: A Collection of Obama Posters and Prints

“As an artist, Benton used ink and paint and paper and passion and strong alliances to speak what had to be spoken. This very fine publication is a sentinel to Benton’s immortality.”

—Bob Braudis, former Pitkin County sheriff

 

“Watkins’ sparse and workmanlike prose, alongside the visual assault of Benton’s staggering work, amount to … a testament to the little known span of the artist’s triumphs.”

—Andrew Travers, Aspen Daily News

Thomas W. Benton: Artist / Activist

Daniel Joseph Watkins

People’s Press

ISBN-13: 978-1-936905-90-4

August 2011 / $39.95

Hardcover, 195 pages

 

Outlaw Poet: A documentary on Ron Whitehead

“I have long admired Ron Whitehead. He is crazy as nine loons, and his poetry is a dazzling mix of folk wisdom and pure mathematics” – Hunter S. Thompson

 

Hey guys,

 

Delighted to bring this excellent project to your attention. Storm Generation Films are currently working on making a feature length documentary on Kentucky Beat Poet Ron Whitehead.  Below is a detailed description of the project from  producer/director Nick Storm:

“The cinema verite story of Outlaw Poet and king of the underground Ron Whitehead. This feature length documentary film will be a journey through Ron’s life; from driving 60-miles an hour at 3 a.m. through the streets of Louisville, in reverse, with Hunter S. Thompson, to his relationships with Beat Generation juggernauts, complete with an introspective look at his childhood growing up on a farm in rural Ohio County western Kentucky where Bill Monroe birthed Bluegrass Music, Ron & Johnny Depp both birthed in Owensboro Kentucky.

Through images, interviews, and Ron’s own words, the story of Ron Whitehead will be documented as he travels to Iceland to share his latest book The Storm Generation Manifesto and on parting, the wilderness poems (produced by Gill Scott Holland’s Holland Brown Books(www.hollandbrownbooks.com). He’ll read “The Viking Mountain” and “The Storm Generation Manifesto” atop The Viking Mountain plus readings from San Francisco crossing the USA to New York City to Ireland and Scotland and England and The Netherlands and Belgium and Italy and Germany and India and Nicaragua and Argentina and Beyond.

The film will include interviews & appearances from: Anita Thompson, Douglas Brinkley, Frank Messina, Birgitta Jonsdottir, Michael Dean Odin Pollock, Olafur Gunnarson (Iceland’s leading novelist), David Amram, Black Pig Liberation Front and many more. Plus music from the Nappy Roots and other (big surprises abound) major bands/musicians.

Whitehead scorches the earth with his own brand of poetry, prose, and ancient wisdom. The visionary icon has lived life on his own terms. Leaving his family farm at the vulnerable age of 17, Ron struck out to discover the world – his world, his way. Through his inventive gifted hard-earned use of poemed verse, prose, and fire-breathing talks/readings performances and his unique raw indigenous force of nature lightninged spirit, Ron Whitehead’s journey through life has become a road map for the rest of us. As Ron enters his sixth decade of the journey, he seeks to continually perpetually eternally relentlessly uplift and inspire all he comes in contact with to comfort and heal all who suffer to awaken all and everything to the awareness that ultimately essentially forgiveness is amazing grace that peace love and understanding and fearlessly being our dream whatever our dreams might be and that regardless of the odds of the circumstances that ultimately life is a terribly beautifully gifted adventure an opportunity to grow our souls. Via his spectrum of creative works which include the spectrum all genres of the arts in his world travels he encourages everyone to come out of whatever closet(s) they’re fearfully hiding in and to find and be their dreams.”

At the moment Storm Generation Films are in the process of raising funds to get this thing going – this is where it gets really interesting, particularly if you want to get involved in all of this. They have set up a kickstarter page to organise funding and are offering some great rewards for anyone kind enough to donate money – from signed posters, DVD’s and your name in the credits of the film to becoming an associate producer, getting an invite to the wrap party or even joining the crew in the field and being part of the filmmaking process.

Anyway I could keep writing all night as to why this project kicks ass and why you would want to be insane not to be a part of it. For now check out the official websites below. I’ll be updating the blog with further developments as they happen.

Official Site: Storm Generation Films

Ron Whitehead: Official Site

Kickstarter Fundraising Page

 

Ok for now,

Rory

 

 

Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg

“For a guy that ain’t straight at all, he’s pretty goddamn straight. He’s one of the few honest people I’ve ever met, for good or ill.”

HST on Allen Ginsberg

Ah yes, Mr. Ginsberg was an important member of The Gonzo Tribe for many reasons, not least for the help he gave Hunter when he was writing Hells Angels. I received an email during the week from Noel Dávila about an exhibition that he recently attended which I am sure you will all find interesting –  Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg. The exhibition is taking place at National Gallery of Art, May 2–September 19, 2010. Here is a brief excerpt from the official website about the exhibition:

 In the first scholarly exhibition of American poet Allen Ginsberg’s photographs, all facets of his work in photography will be explored. Some 79 works on display will range from the 1950s “drugstore” prints to his now celebrated portraits of Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, snapshots of Ginsberg himself taken just before he achieved literary fame, and his later portraits of the Beats and other friends made in the 1980s and 1990s. Ginsberg (1926–1997) started taking photographs in 1953 when he purchased a small, secondhand Kodak camera. For the next decade he captured numerous intimate shots of himself as well as his friends and lovers. He abandoned photography in 1963 but returned to it in the early 1980s. Encouraged by photographers Berenice Abbott and Robert Frank, he reprinted much of his early work and began making new portraits, adding sometimes extensive inscriptions. Although Ginsberg’s photographs form a compelling portrait of the Beat and counterculture generation from the 1950s to the 1990s, his pictures are far more than mere historical documents. The same ideas that inform his poetry—an intense observation of the world, a deep appreciation of the beauty of the vernacular, a celebration of the sacredness of the present, and a faith in intuitive expression—also permeate his photography.

Here is a photo of Noel at the exhibit.

  

Noel is singer/songwriter, blogger, music journalist, poet…and as you can tell from the photo, a Gonzo junkie like myself. Hunter once described a person into Gonzo as being like an egg-sucking dog – there is no known cure. Noel knows this well, as I am sure you all do. Make sure you drop by Noel’s site  www.noeldavila.net and check out his work. He is a talented bloke and is a contributor to the HST for Beginners series.  (note to self – submit something before Marty lynches me)

Ok for now and thanks to Noel for the heads up!

R