Freak Power Collection
The Freak Power collection consists of 100 framed pieces of original artwork, vintage campaign ephemera and signed photographs.
The exhibition is complemented by access to over 25 additional works of political art by Thomas W. Benton.
The Freak Power exhibition is a collection of political art and writing from Hunter S Thompson’s 1970 campaign for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado, where the ski resort of Aspen is located. Thompson created a controversial and widely publicized campaign by writing about political issues in his witty, savage voice and through collaborating with local and international artists to create clever political graphics. The art from those campaigns is now highly sought after by collectors and because of how rare many of the prints are, much of the work has not been seen by the public since the campaign. There is also a considerable amount of Thompson’s writing from that time that has not been republished since 1970. Daniel Joseph Watkins, the curator for this show, has searched exhaustively through several archives and private collections to gather the art and writing that’s now part of this exhibition. With more than 125 pieces available the story told through the work can be more focused on the political art that was produced, the writing and history or a multidisciplinary show that incorporates all of the pieces.
Intent of Exhibition
The real genius of Thompson’s campaign was the way he managed to make politics creative and exciting with his writing, his use of evocative images and his understanding of what issues really mattered to people his age. Thompson had a talent for cutting through the fat around an issue and articulating its essence often in explicit or incendiary language. His ideas about politics, the environment, drugs and law enforcement are as relevant today as they were when he wrote them, his enduring popularity amongst a younger generation the proof of the timelessness of his writing.
The art produced under his direction during that campaign is also as provocative today as it was then. For a generation who came of age during the war in Iraq, ongoing climate change, the legalization of marijuana, and race riots in Ferguson, the type of political engagement that Thompson created feels as important now as it did for a generation that woke up each day to Vietnam and the looming threat of Nuclear war with Russia. Much of the work included in this exhibition is a sort of spiritual predecessor to the work of artists like Shepard Fairey and Banksy. It’s call for radical political engagement and its challenge to the prevailing political and social system will appeal to artists, activists, journalists and historians young and old.
The exhibition can include up to 125 pieces of art, writing, articles, ephemera and photographs from the campaign. The exhibition was designed to be shown in chronological order with all of the different types of material from the campaign mixed together to create a visual history of the growing political involvement of hippies and artists in the Freak Power movement. The exhibition has a story arc largely driven by the growing intensity of the ideological disputes between Thompson and the opposition during the election. Amongst the material Watkins has found are death threats, cartoons portraying Thompson as a Nazi, articles about explosives, drug accusations, guns and undercover agents, anti-hippy propaganda and essays about the American dream. These paper artifacts help to contextualize the artwork that was made for the campaign. It would be difficult to understand the genius of Thompson’s use of writing, mass media and street art to create a cohesive and dynamic message without gathering the different kinds of work into one exhibition. The art or the writing or the journalism alone would fail to explain just how revolutionary and complicated the Freak Power platform became. This show, in some ways, is comparable to the Jack Kerouac show that included his unedited manuscript scroll, but there are significantly more pieces of visual artwork incorporated into this exhibition.
Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter S. Thompson was a journalist and writer best known for his gonzo narrative style. He wrote several books including Hell’s Angels, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail and numerous articles for Rolling Stone Magazine, Time and ESPN as well as many other publications. He lived in Woody Creek, Colorado, just outside of Aspen, for 35 years where he was notorious for his outrageous and sometimes illegal antics with an ever-changing cast of characters from Jack Nicholson to Ed Bradley. After his death in 2005, Johnny Depp adapted Thompson’s only novel, The Rum Diaries, into a film.
Daniel Joseph Watkins created and ran the Gonzo Museum in Aspen, CO and has curated shows for BOA/SOA gallery in Los Angeles and The Lawrence Art Center in Lawrence, Kansas. He worked with the William S. Burroughs estate to curate a show of Burroughs’ art in Aspen and has organized gallery shows for both emerging and established contemporary artists. He published his first book about the artist Thomas W. Benton in 2011. Thomas W. Benton Artist/Activist won the Colorado Book Award and sold out of its first edition. Watkins has just completed his second book Freak Power, which tells the story of Hunter S. Thompson’s run for sheriff and includes art, writing, advertisements, cartoons and articles from the campaign.