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Peoples Press

The Word is Out

In the eye of the beholder

Posted in Blog by People's Press on July 13, 2011

When Daniel Joseph “DJ” Watkins talks about Benton’s work, he sounds like someone who has discovered a buried treasure—and in many ways he has. In his new book Thomas W. Benton: Artist/Activist, Watkins catalogs over 150 images of Benton’s artwork that tells a larger story of his political anti-war activism and his collaboration with Hunter S. Thompson.

We caught up with Watkins in the midst of the book’s release hoopla to get his take on some of the book’s most significant images.

This poster was created by Benton in 1969 to protest the Vietnam War. Benton and a number of local Aspenites marched to the home of Robert McNamara, then secretary of defense, who lived in Snowmass Village at the time. While Benton’s work was obviously artwork, it was also meant to be art in action, art that people could see out in public. These posters were affixed to pickets and people marched with them. They tacked them to the walls and put them wherever they wanted to send a message. Benton was a peace activist, and this was a big part of his anti-war efforts. This is the way he created his message, and this image really illustrates that.





Benton 2
This was one of Benton’s favorite poems of all time. One of the great things about Benton’s work was his ability to combine a visual symbol with text to create a beautiful work of art. This is a piece that encompasses a lot of skill in terms of the color, the dove, and the way he’s integrated it with the words.









This was the first poster I ever saw of Benton’s. It was a real source of inspiration and how I first became connected with his work. I had created my own political/anti-war artwork in college, so seeing this piece resonated with what I believed and where I was going with my own work in terms of the graphics and the message. It was what I wanted to say with my own artwork, so seeing this image is what sent me on a path to discover more of Benton’s work.







This is by far the most iconic, most famous piece Benton is known for. It’s a double-edged sword because I want to expand people’s horizons and expose them to his other work. There is so much breadth in terms of silkscreen techniques and fine art composition. But Benton was friends with Hunter S. Thompson for forty years and they collaborated a lot over that period. The book is the first to catalog and document that collaboration. I’m hoping that’s the hook that will grab people and hook them in to the larger project.










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