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.

Visiting Owl Farm; A Journey into Hunter Thompson’s fortified compound (via stormgenerationfilms)

Check out this account by Nick Storm of his visit to Owl Farm. While you are at it make sure to have a look at his upcoming documentary on Ron Whitehead (More on this soon)

Rory

Visiting Owl Farm; A Journey into Hunter Thompson's fortified compound It all started months before in a flurry of emails, late nights and strong drinks. I’d been working on the Outlaw Poet documentary: writing emails, driving from Evansville, IN to Louisville, KY, sending letters and tracking down leads on interviews about poet, performer, and king of the underground Ron Whitehead. On my list, and main concern: interview Anita Thompson, widow of journalist and professional wild man Hunter S. Thompson. Ron had a len … Read More

via stormgenerationfilms

First shot of Paul Kemp & Chenault in The Rum Diary

Hey folks,

 

Entertainment Weekly has revealed the first shot of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard in a scene from The Rum Diary.

 

Click here to see the image 

 

I am also looking for your feedback regarding posting these updates from The Rum Diary. Should I post pictures directly or link to them so as not to spoil anything? Let me know in the comment section and also what you think of the shot.

I expect that there will be a poster, trailer and more stills hitting the net in the weeks ahead. As always I will post them here asap.

Cheers,

R

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Happy Birthday Hunter

Today would have been Hunter’s 74th birthday. No matter what way you are marking the day, don’t forget the words, have a toast and most importantly – Have fun! If the celebrations get a little out of hand, here is some advice from the Good Doctor which might prove useful:

“When you push a car off a cliff and blow it up, be sure to roll the windows down to avoid shrapnel. Also, strip the license plate so you’re not billed for the cleanup.”  

Wise words indeed 😉

R

Rory

UPDATE: Check this out, courtesy of the guys at Flying Dog.

 

Scholarships to Gonzo Journalism Workshop with Douglas Brinkley

Hi Everybody,

 

I have exciting news here regarding the opportunity this coming June to participate in a Gonzo Journalism workshop with Douglas Brinkley at The Norman Mailer Center and Writers Colony based in Provincetown, Massachusetts. The workshop takes place from June 12, 2011 – Sunday, June 19, 2011. Full details below:

 

The Hunter S. Thompson workshop will engage with the essence of Gonzo journalism. Assigned texts include Fear & Loathing, The Proud Highway, The Great Shark Hunt, and Generation of Swine. Further information on the workshop and our application form can be found at: http://nmwcolony.org/workshops/course_details/2/31/22. The application asks for a sample of your own journalistic writing.

 

The instructor Dr. Douglas Brinkley is the literary executor of the Hunter S. Thompson estate. Dr. Brinkley is a Professor of History at Rice University.  Since 1989 he has taught at the U.S. Naval Academy, Princeton University and Tulane University.  Six of his biographies have been chosen as New York Times books of the year. Brinkley is also a contributing editor for Vanity Fair and American Heritage, as well as a frequent contributor to The New York Times, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly.

 

The Norman Mailer Center and Writers Colony is an educational nonprofit dedicated to supporting and celebrating literary voices which challenge the norm and surprise their audiences. We promote a vision of the writer as an actor in public debate.

We hope to bring together a community of Thompson enthusiasts and great writers for this week in June!

Best,

Jessica Zlotnicki

Program Manager

Norman Mailer Center &

Writers Colony


Well what can I say guys, that is quite the opportunity – please let me know if you intend on applying and of course should you be one of the lucky few who gets a scholarship!

All the best,

 

Rory

6 Years – Unpublished Hunter S. Thompson Interview Surfaces

 

The folks over at The Quietus really gifted the Gonzo world a rare treat this week by unearthing this great interview with Hunter from 1998. It is fairly lengthy and covers some very interesting topics – from Bill Clinton to The Rum Diary. I’m not going to jabber on about this too much, it is just great to read new words (old words?)  from the man, particularly in relation to his thoughts on Paul Kemp and Yeamon – check it out here.

In keeping with the whole Rum Diary focus, long time Gonzo devotee Robert Chalmers checks in over at The Independent with a great interview with Bruce Robinson – in which the director of The Rum Diary discussing everything from how he thought he was going to die in a plane crash with Johnny Depp to why writing The Rum Diary screenplay dredged up some old demons. Read the entire piece here.

Also Ralph Steadman is now a contributor over at Kotori Magazine. Check out his thoughts on smoking and not to mention his poetry!  Thanks to Jake McGee for the heads up!

Ok for now – time to raise a toast to The Good Doctor,

 

Rory

 

 

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

 

 

The Launch of Hunter S. Thompson’s ESPN Column

Just came across an article by Kevin Jackson over at ESPN, in which he remembers the pressure of waiting for Hunter to meet his deadline and submit his first Hey Rube column piece. Here is a quick excerpt:

” I will never forget the staredown with that evil, lifeless FAX machine.

For more than seven hours, I locked eyes with it from across the room, hoping to see a light come on, hear a magical beep or two, or — please, dear God — start to see some paper spit out of that stingy bastard.

It was the night of Sunday, Nov. 5, 2000, the hours before the dawn of a new ESPN.com section called Page 2 — an initiative that I was becoming more and more convinced was going to be a failure.

“He will definitely file by 6. We’ll just FAX it over,” Hunter S. Thompson’s assistant had assured me around noon that day, calling in just a few minutes before the NFL action kicked off. “We’re just putting the finishing touches on the final draft.

Read the full article here.

 

Gonzo Fest – Tonight in Kentucky

 

 

• What: Gonzo Fest
• When: Saturday, noon to midnight and beyond
• Where: The Monkey Wrench, 1025 Barret Ave.
• Cost: Admission: $12 advance, $15 at the door, $75 for VIP package including rooftop access.
• Info: Tickets and information: (502) 582-2434

 

Sorry for the short notice,

Check it out if you can,

Rory