Ralph Steadman puts his touch on Gonzo Gallery works | AspenTimes.com

Ralph Steadman puts his touch on Gonzo Gallery works

Gonzo artist Ralph Steadman doesn't sell his original works, but an Aspen gallery owner recently persuaded him to put his touch on a handful of silkscreen posters created by Tom Benton as well photographs taken by photojournalist David Hiser.

D.J. Watkins, owner of the Gonzo Gallery, traveled to England earlier this month to meet Steadman, whose collaborations with maverick writer Hunter S. Thompson included unsettling and irreverently comical images, among them "The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved" and "Fearing and Loathing in Las Vegas."

Watkins and Steadman bonded instantly, with Steadman adding his artistry to both Benton and Hiser's pieces.

Steadman apparently didn't hold back.

"It was sort of a stream of consciousness," Watkins said. "We were talking about World War II and history, and he did one of Hunter looking like Hitler and J. Edgar Hoover as Hitler."

That photograph, taken by Hiser, shows Thompson standing in front of a Hoover portrait. Steadman gave Thompson and Hoover — the Woody Creek writer once described the former FBI director as "a foul human monument to corruption and depravity on a scale that dwarfs any other public official in American history" — some extra hair on their heads as well as the fuhrer's signature mustache. "He does him better than me!" Steadman wrote below the photo.

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Steadman's illustrations will be showcased at 7 p.m. today at the Gonzo Gallery.

For Watkins, the opening is a culmination of an idea that started to percolate seven years ago after Benton died in April 2007 at age 76.

It was then that he was rummaging through Benton's studio on George Stranahan's property as part of his research for his 2011 book "Thomas W. Benton: Artist/Activist." He found a few of Benton's unfinished silkscreen posters touting Thompson's run for Pitkin County sheriff in 1970, an antiestablishment slice of Aspen history chronicled in Watkins' most recent book, "Freak Power: Hunter S. Thompson's Campaign for Sheriff."

Missing from the posters were Benton's signature "Gonzo fists" clenching a peyote button, which he created with artist Paul Pascarella.

"I thought it would be cool if Ralph would illustrate the middle art," Watkins said. He also collected some Hiser photos of Thompson during his Freak Power campaign, with Steadman in mind.

Watkins used his local connections to hook up with Deborah Fuller, Thompson's former assistant who is close to Steadman.

"She helped arrange everything," Watkins said.

The two flew to England and met Steadman and his family at their Merseyside home.

"I've been selling Ralph's stuff for years, but I never developed a personal connection," Watkins said.

But Watkins had never sold any of Steadman's original works because he keeps those to himself.

The two hit it off the first day, and the next day, Watkins brought his tube of prints and photographs to show to Steadman.

"I told him, 'I know you don't sell originals, but I have this gallery in town,'" Watkins said.

Steadman got busy, inflicting his sinister touch on the pieces.

"The fact that he doesn't sell his originals makes them really unique," Watkins said of the artwork, all of which are on sale for $15,000 each.

Next year, Steadman's original work will be be shown in a traveling gallery that will on display at the Society of Illustrators in New York City and Miami Art Basel. Stedman's daughter Sadie is spearheading the effort, and Watkins said he is working to have some of his originals displayed in Colorado, perhaps even at the Aspen Art Museum. Steadman turns 80 in May, his creative intact.

"I was flabbergasted at how much he is still working," Watkins said.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

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