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

If you are likely to curate an exhibition of classic artwork associated to the unorthodox and self-explained gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, get ready for the approach alone to come to be a little bit, very well, gonzo.

Daniel Joseph Watkins learned this lesson the really hard way. He had to determine out how to transfer “Freak Electrical power,” an exhibition showcasing the visually putting campaign posters intended for Thompson’s 1970 operate for county sheriff in Colorado, from his Aspen-primarily based gallery to Poster Household in Manhattan, the place it is open via Aug. 15.

The posters, built and silk-screened by the artist Thomas W. Benton, a close good friend of Thompson’s and a fellow Californian turned Aspen activist, fused intestine-punch electioneering (“Sell Aspen or Save It”) with visceral imagery (a clenched fist established in opposition to a sheriff’s badge). Surviving samples in pristine condition now promote for upward of $25,000. But that price tag pales in comparison to owners’ intense emotional attachment. “It would have been much easier to borrow a Warhol or a Rothko from some of these folks,” laughed Watkins.

“Unfortunately, later on in his life, Benton turned eaten with a drug behavior and had been buying and selling and advertising his artwork to many drug sellers,” he continued. One of people figures was ready to bank loan out numerous essential Benton items. But he built it clear that if anything at all transpired to them, filing an insurance assert would be the least of Watkins’s challenges.

A suitably warned Watkins felt there was in the end 1 person he could entrust to ship the posters east: himself. So last thirty day period he loaded up a U-Haul with the contents of the exhibition and personally drove it the 30 several hours and virtually 2,000 miles to Poster House’s entrance doorways.

“At night time, I slept in the back again of the truck with the artwork. I had a tiny bed there with a heated electric powered blanket. And I had a club,” he recalled matter-of-factly. “I had a buddy next me in another car or truck in situation just about anything went wrong, and we would pull in excess of to sleep in many Walmart parking tons.”

Poster Residence, the 1st museum in the United States devoted to the art of posters, opened in Chelsea in 2019, and the exhibition, co-curated with the artist Yuri Zupancic, is one particular of a few on check out in its gallery areas. In addition to three dozen Benton posters, this demonstrate features kinetic ink-splattered drawings by Ralph Steadman, whose illustrations accompanied quite a few of Thompson’s content articles campaign path images by the Aspen photojournalists David Hiser and Bob Krueger and difficulties of The Aspen Wall Poster, a broadsheet newspaper created by Benton and prepared by Thompson.

For Angelina Lippert, Poster House’s main curator, the exhibition’s range of materials gives a fascinating dichotomy. “Hunter S. Thompson is a chaotic figure,” she reported. “We’ve all noticed ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,’” the 1998 film with Johnny Depp portraying an unhinged Thompson. Steadman’s frenetic drawings echo that pinwheeling individuality. Still, “all of Benton’s posters are so reserved, silent and direct in comparison,” Lippert went on. “It helps make an amazing distinction to see these two fellas expressing the identical ideas in these types of powerfully various strategies.”

To be good, Thompson as a prospect couldn’t have been more various from Depp’s onscreen caricature. Alternatively, as viewed in candid footage from Watkins’s personal “Freak Power” documentary (2020), functioning every day as component of the Poster Dwelling demonstrate, Thompson was thoughtful and articulate — although his perspective towards politicking could be playfully wry. (Prepping for a general public debate with the incumbent sheriff, Thompson secretly shaved his head so he could walk out onstage and — in the conservative parlance of the period — snidely refer to “my longhaired opponent.”) Most importantly, he was uninterested in mere symbolism, dismissing Norman Mailer’s 1969 New York Metropolis mayoral bid as “more a sort of vengeance than electoral politics.” Thompson was managing to win.

His “Freak Power” ticket signaled a pivot place for a lot of Aspenites’ self-identity — catalyzing a movement to preserve the neighborhood setting with strict restrictions on actual estate development overhaul a police department, observed as wildly out of regulate and legalize marijuana use. As soon as derided as simply “freak” issues, they’ve because been embraced by area legislation enforcement or moved to the statute publications.

“Anybody who thinks I’m kidding is a fool,” a single of his community newspaper advertisements declared. “739 new registrations considering the fact that the September key is no joke in a county with a total vote of fewer than 3,000. So the time has come, it would seem, to dispense with evil humor and arrive to grips with the unusual possibility that the future sheriff of this county might very properly be a foul-mouthed outlaw journalist with some very rude notions about existence, law enforcement and political reality in The us.”

In the close, Thompson fell quick, as outlying regions of the county came out strongly versus him, creating him to drop the election by practically 7 share points. “We ran an truthful campaign, and that was the challenge,” he quipped to The Linked Push.

Even so, Watkins insists you can reduce a struggle and however acquire the war: Thompson-aligned candidates, relying on his voter base and a fresh new series of Benton posters, took majority management of the county fee in 1972 and the sheriff’s place of work in 1976. By 1986, the sheriff was a previous Thompson campaign employee. Implementing Thompson’s ideas introduced its have fallout, even though.

“There were unintended consequences of some of the limiting of growth, in that it confined the provide so substantially that desire
went off the charts,” Watkins said of a resulting housing crunch. “It led to the transition of Aspen staying additional of a rich put. Men and women occur to Aspen now and check with, ‘Where did all the hippies go?’ There is surely some bitterness and disappointment about that.”

If absolutely nothing else, Watkins hopes “Freak Power” rescues Thompson’s legacy from the cartoonlike mythology that has created up all-around him. “When I provide up his identify, in some cases men and women say, ‘You necessarily mean Hunter Thompson, the male with the medicine and the guns and the craziness?’ No, I suggest Hunter Thompson, the prescient political thinker who remodeled a community with a radical marketing campaign.”

Freak Ability

Through Aug. 15, Poster Home, 119 W. 23rd Street. 917-722-2439 timed tickets necessary.

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