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Awesome Men Throughout History: Winston Smith

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Most of what we know about the art of collage comes from what we did in elementary school, or what we see in college girls’ dorm rooms. Collages do get more sophisticated than that, though; surrealists were making them back in the 1920s, and guys like Baltimore poet/artist Chris Toll (who passed away in 2012) have maintained that tradition today. But arguably the most well-known collage artist going today is Winston Smith, whose work has graced magazines and album covers for decades.

winstonsmith1You’ve probably seen his work before without even realizing it, which is why he’s this week’s Awesome Man Throughout History.

Smith (born James Morey) studied art in Florence, Italy, and moved to San Francisco in the 1970s, where he roadied for bands like Journey and Santana. He also collaborated with Jayed Scotti on a satirical pulp magazine called Fallout and developed his witty and politically-charged style of collage.

Most collage art is whimsical and random, taking images from magazines and classical illustrations/paintings and arranging them in new contexts (Terry Gilliam’s cartoons for Monty Python are a good example of this), but Winston’s work had more direction. He was frustrated with what he saw as American complacency in the face of growing corporate influence over politics and culture,
and his visual landscapes use mainstream, commercial imagery to mock (and call attention to) civic hypocrisy and excess.

When one of his illustrations was shown to fellow TSB Awesome Man Jello Biafra, the two struck up a friendship, and Smith designed album covers and inserts for Biafra’s band, Dead Kennedys, as well as their logo and the logo for Biafra’s record label, Alternative Tentacles.

Smith’s collaborations with Dead Kennedys introduced a whole subculture to his work, and he went on to design album covers for other punk bands, as well as more mainstream artists like Ben Harper, George Carlin, and Green Day. If you own a copy of Insomniac, Green Day’s fourth album, then you own a piece of Smith’s work.

That album cover was a collaboration, too. According to Rock Pop Gallery, Billie Joe Armstrong and Tre Cool met with Smith and looked through his portfolio and picked out an image that they liked, and Smith began his composition from there. The whole cover took him 38 straight hours to put together, and when Billie Joe asked him how he did that without keeling over and dying, Smith told him “it’s easy for me. I’m an insomniac.” So in addition to doing the cover for that album, he may have accidentally named it as well.

Smith’s work has also appeared in magazines like Playboy, Wired, Utne Reader, Mother Jones, and National Lampoon, and he’s put out three art books: Act Like Nothing’s Wrong, Artcrime, and All Riot on the Western Front. And for a guy who’s accomplished so much, he’s not bitter or jaded at all. “When I look at art magazines like Juxtapoz and High Fructose,” he told Punk Globe, “I see so many different versions of incredible art that it makes me proud of anyone who makes the effort at self-expression through any medium, be it art or music or literature. Just making the effort is 90% of what counts.”

I’ll leave you with this interview he did with VICE, which sheds more light on his career and humble-but-productive disposition.

About Dave Kiefaber

Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.

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