The Great Art Behind Hunter S. Thompson’s Run for Sheriff

If you are going to organize an exhibition of old artwork related to unconventional and self-described gonzo journalist Hunter s thompson, Prepare yourself to be a little, well, gonzo for the process.

Daniel Joseph Watkins learned this lesson the hard way. He had to figure out how to move “Freak Power,” an exhibition featuring visually striking campaign posters designed for Thompson’s county sheriff in Colorado for the 1970s, from his Aspen-based Gallery To Poster house In Manhattan, where it is open through August 15.

Artist designed posters and silk-screens Thomas W. BentonA close friend of Thompson and a fellow California turned aspen activist, fut gut-punch electroneering (“Aspen or Save It It”) with visceral imagery (a clenched fist against a sheriff’s badge). Survival specimens in pristine condition now sell for upwards of $ 25,000. But this price tag is less than the intense emotional attachment of the owners. Watkins gets a laugh.

“Unfortunately, later in his life, Benton became obsessed with a drug habit and selling and selling his artwork to several drug dealers,” he continued. One of those figures was set to loan to several major Benton pieces. But he made it clear that if something happened to him, filing an insurance claim would be the least of Watkins’ problems.

An alert Watkins eventually realized that there was one person he could entrust to posting the poster in the past: himself. So last month he loaded a U-Haul with the exhibition’s contents and personally transported it to the front doors of the poster house for 30 hours and about 2,000 miles.

“At night, I slept in the back of the truck with the artwork. I had a bed with a heated electric blanket. And I had a club, “he recalled factually. “I had a friend who was following me in another car if anything went wrong, and we would drag us to sleep in the various Walmart parking lots.”

Poster House, the first museum in the United States dedicated to the art of posters, Opened in Chelsea in 2019, And the exhibition, co-curated with artist Yuri Zupancic, is one of three in its gallery locations. In addition to three dozen Benton posters, the show includes dynamic ink-splatter images Ralph steedman, Whose illustrations were accompanied by many of Thompson’s writings; Campaign trail photos by aspen photojournalists David hisser And Bob kruger; And the issues of The Aspen Wall poster, a broadsheet newspaper designed by Benton and written by Thompson.

For Angelina Lippert, Chief Curator of Poster House, the range of content of the exhibition provides an attractive bifurcation. “Hunter S. Thompson is a chaotic figure,” she said. “We’ve seen ‘Fear and Loathing’ in Las Vegas,” 1998 film Johnny Depp portrayed an unpublished Thompson. Steadman’s frantic illustrations echo that echo. Still, “all of Benton’s posters are so reserved, calm and direct in comparison,” Lippert went on. “It creates an incredible contrast to see these two people expressing similar ideas so powerfully.”

To be fair, Thompson as a candidate could not be more different than Depp’s onscreen caricature. Instead, as seen in explicit footage from Watkins’ “Freak Power” Document (2020), running daily as part of the Poster House show, Thompson was thoughtful and outspoken – though his attitude towards politics may be fickle. (Constantly propping up public debates with the Sheriff, Thompson secretly shaved his head so that he could step off the stage and – in the era’s conservative paradox – “mentions my longtime antics.” ) Most importantly, he was merely one sided. Symbolism rejected Norman Mailer’s 1969 New York City mayoral bid as “a form of vengeance more than electoral politics.” Thompson was running to win.

His “Freak Power” Ticket Indicated a pivot point for the self-identification of multiple espenites – catalyzing a movement to preserve the local environment with strict limitations on real estate development; A police department overhaul, seen to be wildly out of control; And legalizing marijuana use. Once extracted only as “cynical” concerns, they have since been embraced by local law enforcement or moved to the statute books.

“Anyone who thinks I’m joking is an idiot,” declared one of his local newspaper advertisements. 739 new registrations since the September primary, with a total vote of less than 3,000 in the county, is no joke. So the time has come, it seems, to scatter with bad humor and come to grips with the strange possibility that the next sheriff of this county may very well be a dishonest-mouthed journalist who lives, Law Enforcement and Political Reality in America. “

In the end, Thompson fell short, as the outskirts of the county came out strongly against him, losing the election by nearly 7,000 points. “We ran an honest campaign, and that was the problem,” he told the Associated Press.

Still, Watkins insists that you can lose a fight and still win the war: Thompson-aligning candidates, relying on their voter base and a fresh series of Benton posters in 1972, before the County Commission and Sheriff’s Office Controlled the majority. 1986, the The sheriff Was a former Thompson campaign worker. Implementing Thompson’s ideas had its own consequences, however.

“Some limited results of growth had unintended consequences, it limited supply so much that demand moved off the charts,” Watkins said. The accommodation Problem. “It caused more of a rich place to cause aspen infection. People now come to Aspen and ask, ‘Where did all the hippies go?’ There is definitely some bitterness and disappointment about this. “

If nothing else, Watkins hopes that “Freak Power” will save Thompson Heritage From the cartoonist mythology that is built around it. “When I bring up his name, sometimes people say, ‘You mean Hunter Thompson, from drugs and guns, and from madness?’ No, I mean Hunter Thompson, the presentation political thinker who transformed a community with a radical campaign. “

Freak power

Through August 15, Poster House, 119 W. 23rd Street. 917–722–2439;; Required Ticket.

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