It was a dark and stormy night in Berke­ley where I was attend­ing a con­fer­ence of social sci­en­tists (who were nei­ther). To avoid a fatal attack of bore­dom four of us slipped out of a post-dinner panel on the impact of the Kennedy-Nixon debates on U.S. pol­i­tics and made our way down Uni­ver­sity Avenue look­ing for trou­ble. We found it. A poster announced a Dead Kennedy’s con­cert. We went. Four suit-and-tie pro­fes­sors. We stood out like a sore mid­dle finger.


I don’t remem­ber much about Jello Biafra’s music but I remem­ber the poster that first caught our eye. Win­ston Smith was the gonzo-artist respon­si­ble for it. In the years since Smith launched his career with bizarre posters announc­ing con­certs by bands — some of which didn’t actu­ally exist — he’s risen from provoca­tive to noto­ri­ous, from fringe to out-of-this world, from appear­ances on cof­fee house walls to a book on cof­fee tables; which is where you today find Act Like Nothing’s Wrong. It was this book that pro­pelled Smith into the nation’s con­scious­ness, thanks to tel­e­van­ge­list Pat Robert­son. When Robert­son railed against Smith’s work on The 700 Club he kept it hid­den from view, pre­sum­ably to pro­tect his eas­ily upset view­ers. The piecethat got Robertson’s dan­der up is “Idol,” a shinny plas­tic Jesus nailed to a “cross” of dol­lar bills. To para­phrase Carly Simon: Pat Robert­son “you’re so vain you must think this picture’s about you… don’t you, don’t you.”

album Panic Now by Winston Smith

The first thing you’ll notice is that Win­ston Smith isn’t a painter. Instead of brushes and paint Smith’s tools are scis­sors and a glue stick. The word for his medium is mon­tage art, pieces and images culled from the kitchen mid­den of our cul­ture, arranged to pro­vide the max­i­mum sound from a clash of sym­bols. He pro­vides what Aris­to­tle called “the shock of recog­ni­tion.” Through his eyes we see the famil­iar, the pedes­trian images and icons of our soci­ety as we have never seen them before. He makes us look at our­selves, at our cul­ture, and at what we praise as progress.


Win­ston Smith’s shows us where we’ve gone astray in our love affair with “cap­i­tal­ism,” “con­sumerism,” and “con­ve­nience” in order to get us to change our ways. He’s no machine-smashing Lud­dite but an icon­o­clas­tic patriot who cares enough about the coun­try to want us to do bet­ter and be bet­ter. Smith’s into artis­tic “tough love.”


Describ­ing him­self as a fig­ure “shrouded in mys­tery and leg­end,” Illus­tra­tor Win­ston Smith says the cut and paste mon­tage of ‘50s mag­a­zine imagery that he cre­ates monthly for Spins Top­spin col­umn “reflect the hypocrisy, excess, and banal­ity of 1950’s Amer­ica.” That decade “made a dis­as­trous impres­sion” on the artist, who has worked closely with the Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra design­ing many of the sem­i­nal punk out­fits record cov­ers. Smiths motto: “Mod­er­a­tion is for the weak.” Smith who also con­tributes illus­tra­tions to Mother Jones, The Pro­gres­sive, Utne Reader and Max­i­mum Rock­N­Roll, has com­piled a sec­ond vol­ume of his mon­tage art, Art­crime (Last Gasp), due in May, 1997.

Excerpt cour­tesy of Spin Mag­a­zine.