Two years after Benton’s death in 2007, Artist/Activist compiler 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
According to Ralph Steadman, “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.”