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Winston Smith designed the album cover If Evolution Is Outlawed Only Outlaws Will Evolve for Jello Biafra’s fifth spoken word album. Released by Alternative Tentacles.
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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.”
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.
Winston Smith, who named himself after the protagonist of Orwell’s 1984, likes to slice up vintage National Geographic and Life magazines and World War II era children’s encyclopedias and paste them back together to create images that most God-fearing Americans would not be proud to have on their coffee tables. Smith’s lo-fi montages of apple-pie women feeding babies milk from torpedoes and Norman Rockwellesque retirees harvesting money from trees – collected now in his book Act Like Nothing’s Wrong (Last Gasp) – are agitprop images in the grand surrealist tradition of John Hartfield’s famous antiwar collages. “Artists are like canaries in the mineshaft,” Smith explains. “Coal miners used to take these birds underground as indicators of poisionous gas. If the bird dropped dead, then they would be alerted. Artists have this certain kind of sensitivity.”
Smith’s dark sense of humor found him a friend in Jello Biafra, who first entered his orbit after receiving a postcard of JFK’s head exploding with the message: “If you want more, write back.” Biafra did, and ended up using the artist’s rendering of a crucifix wrapped in U.S. dollar bills on the cover of the Dead Kennedys’ 1981 album, In God We Trust Inc. In Smith’s world, where UPC symbols bear a striking resemblance to Nazi architect Albert Speer’s “Cathedral of Light,” it’s not surprising to find that the last four digits of his phone number happen to be 1-9-8-4. Gulp. “One of my cats is named 51 50,” Smith notes. “The police code for crazy.”