He’s been labeled a legendary master of collage and a “Punk Art Surrealist”. Bay Area artist Winston Smith has been making his thought-provoking surrealist collages since the 1970s. Smith left the U.S. in 1969 to study art in Italy and experienced “a massive case of culture shock” upon his return. Struck by the profound social changes that had occurred during his absence, he began taking “safe” images from magazines to create politically-charged works of art.
There’s something inherently “punk” about making collage- it requires a do-it-yourself mentality and a certain aggressiveness in cutting and splicing together pictures. Smith once said, “If you have a razor blade and some glue, you can suddenly change the whole world. That’s why collage, I think, has a certain impact, because taking images from diverse sources shocks the mind, ’cause we’re used to seeing things in context.”
Smith’s works can be dark and unsettling, in his words, a “sour point of view,” or bright and fluorescent, using art from early advertisements. You will find a range in his current exhibit “Retrograde” at Mule Gallery in San Francisco. The show presents new collages alongside older pieces, involving commentary on politics and consumer culture. One of these is his controversial cover art for Dead Kennedys’ In God We Trust, Inc., an image of a crucifix made of dollar bills, which vocalist Jello Biafra says inspired the album.
To Smith, punk was more an art movement than it was a music movement, and the art and the music went hand-in-hand. His chaotic sense of surrealism and simplicity in collage perfectly mixed with the political folly of punk bands of the time, and his work that blazed their albums and gig flyers would eventually inspire a generation of artists. He has created art for the music label Alternative Tentacles, as well as over 50 record covers for bands including the Dead Kennedys and Green Day, among many others. “Retrograde: Art by Winston Smith” is on view through June 24th, 2016.