Thanks so much for the interview Winston! Tell us
about some of your latest artwork that you have done?
I just finished some album art for the new 45
Grave album (their first in 25 years) but I’m still not sure
how they’ll use it. That remains a mystery. I’m also
planning a poster for Primus and another for the Surrealist
Panel that I’ll participate in with Vale and Penelope
Rosemont at the Anarchists’ Book fair at the end of March.
In addition, I always have a dozen different side projects
percolating and developing.
Who were some of your personal inspirations
I’m afraid I’m as old fashioned as sealing
wax. Most of my personal inspirations have been dead for
centuries. Among them, Sandro Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci,
Hieronymus Bosch and others somewhat more contemporary such
as the Dadaists and Surrealist artists. I don’t know very
much about many living artists, accept the ones that are
personal friends. They are very inspiring for me, the works
of Chuck Sperry and Ron Donovan and Chris Shaw. Their
posters are extraordinary. And the works of Shepard Fairey
and Paul Mavrides and Hal Robbins are a constant source of
wonderment. When I look at art magazines like Juxtapoz and
High Fructose 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.
Do you remember the CD Cover that you did for
Kathy Peck and myself for "Hear This" which helped raise
funds for H.E.A.R.?
That piece was called “I’m All Ears”. When
Kathy asked me for some graphics for that album that was the
first piece that came to mind. It was a privilege to have my
work used for promoting Kathy’s H.E.A.R. project. She’s
worked very hard for years on that and it’s had great
beneficial effect. Dirk was also a strong supporter of her
Did you do the artwork for the Dirk Dirksen
Yes, that was an honor to be asked to do
that. Dirk was such a good friend to all of us and I loved
and admired him and miss him very much. He was the calm eye
of the turbulent punk scene storm in San Francisco and always
had encouraging words and advice for those of us struggling
to do our work in this community.
As for the artwork for his memorial concerts, I had made a
massive collage version of Leonardo’s “Last Supper” that
included photos of noteworthy (and unworthy) punks of the
era. Many photos were by James Stark, F. Stop Fitzgerald and
Richard McCaffrey. It was entitled “Never Give Up”. I
altered my collage for Dirk’s Memorial Poster by replacing
the faces with a multitude of photos of Dirk, even one of him
as a child in lederhosen back in Berlin during the war. It
was a riot of Dirk faces (and he could make some wonderful
faces!), so there was a lot of variety.
I still miss Dirk all the time. I’m sure a lot of people
miss him. He made such a big difference in our otherwise
empty and pathetic little lives.
Can you tell us some of your personal favorites
of all the work you have done?
There are many compositions I’ve created that
have never seen the light of day which I like very much.
Some of them are in my books, such as “ashes to Ashes” (which
was turned into a 3-D piece by Tristan Eaton for his book 3-D
Of the works that wound up on record covers, I’d say “Idol”
(The Cross of Dollars) would be one of them. I made it
around 1977 as a three dimensional piece. Then I made a 2-D
collage out of it in ’78. I didn’t show it to Biafra till
early 1980. That’s when he decided to use it for Dead
Kennedys’ EP “In God We Trust, Inc.” I didn’t find out for
20 years that he didn’t actually have a record in mind at the
time but wanted to do one so he could use that exact piece on
the cover. I’m glad that my work inspired his creativity.
We have always had a symbiotic working relationship ever
since, bouncing ideas off one another and trying new
directions. That was over 32 years ago and we’ve been
“Partners in Crime” ever since.
Tell us some of the books that include your
Actually, I don’t know. But I know that
there are a lot of them so far. Besides my books published
by Last Gasp of San Francisco (Act Like Nothing’s Wrong,
1994, Artcrime, 1998, All Riot on the Western Front, 2004)
my work has appeared in lots of books about the punk
underground. I’ve had my work used for several book covers,
mostly books about politics (including best selling author
Greg Palast’s books, “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy” and
“Armed Madhouse”). I’ve also had many illustrations used in
books, even a few that were college textbooks and a doctoral
thesis (which is funny, since I am a high school drop-out).
I think there is a list on my website for lots of the books
but I’m not sure how to look that up since I’m so bad at
computer research, or any thing on the computer, actually. I
have never gotten the hang of using the computer. I’m very
much a Luddite. My aptitude for computers or practically
anything technical or mechanical is nil. I’m probably 95%
right-brained. The 5% left-brain is probably just enough to
keep my balance while walking up and down stairs, etc.
You did artwork for a George Carlin. Please tell
us about that?
I had done a huge show at C-Pop Gallery in
Detroit in the summer of 2001 and on the way back stopped in
Chicago because I was doing work for Playboy at the time
(lots of double-page illustrations for stories and
articles---but I still never scored a dream date with Miss
I’d been contacted by Atlantic Records about doing a cover
for George Carlin’s new album and I kept asking them for the
title, since that would help me gather images to represent
it. They kept saying, “Uh, well, you should probably let
George tell you about that”.
So when we spoke on the phone on September 8th or 9th while
in Chicago we had a long talk about the theme of his new show
and what I could arrange as a compelling album cover. He
said he really liked the work he’d seen in my books and was
looking forward to something that would fit his subject
matter. So when I asked him what his title was he said he
wanted to call it “I Kinda Like It when a Lotta People Die”.
Immediately I reassured him that he’d come to the right place
since I had lots of images of catastrophes, earthquakes,
sinking ships, etc.
So a day or so later we got back to San Francisco and the
very next morning we awoke to a friend calling to say there
had been this huge accident in New York City. We didn’t have
television except for an old TV used to watch videos on. It
only got one static-filled ABC station showing the attacks on
the Twin Towers.
Like everyone else in the world, we sat there with our jaws
dropping and a few hours latter the phone rang. It was
George. We both talked about the horrendous events unfolding
before us and he casually said, “Ya know, that title I had
for the album… I’ve been thinking. Maybe I’ll change it to
something else. But don’t let that change what the artwork
will be”. I agreed and pointed out that that was probably a
good idea. When the album was released around Christmas of
that year he had re-christened it “Complaints and
Grievances”. It was a really funny album and totally right-
on so I was proud to have the opportunity to participate in
that with George.
Because they said it would also be a vinyl release I made the
original as a three-part gate-fold album that was 12’ x 36”.
So the original is quite large and full of minute detail.
Unfortunately they released it as a CD so much of the tiny
details were lost in the reduction. I look at the CD now and
even I can’t tell what certain things are. They did make
life-sized poster of it but by the time I found out they were
all gone (typical). George was a funny guy and a very nice
cat. If he were still around he’d be having have a blast
right now during this election year.
Tell us about your connection with Green Day and
I’ll make my long Green Day story short. I’d
known Tre since he was a teen-ager up in Northern Californy
where I lived years ago in a remote cabin out in the woods
for years. No electricity or running water or telephone at
my old wig-wam. It’s still that way. Very rustic.
We’d run into each other from time to time and he’d asked me
a couple times about doing a record cover for his band. By
and by I wound up back in the City years later and in the
mean time he’d gone on to fame and fortune with his band
mates in Green Day.
When they tracked me down in late 1995 Tre and Bill came over
and we went through hundreds of my pieces till they found one
in particular that caught their eye. So I used that piece to
create the composition for their up-coming album “Insomniac”.
It was probably one of the most bizarre pieces I’d made up
till that time. (I entitled it, “God Told Me to Skin You
Alive” after the first line Biafra utters on the first Dead K
album. Curiously enough, Billie Joe, Tre and Mike each
recognized it. How obscure is that??) I also made an
additional piece for the back cover and an inside tray card
After the release we worked with a team to produce an
animation of the front and back covers, where all the
elements move and inter-act. Mike thought it was a computer
animation but we actually cut everything out piece by piece
and hinged them together to move them like puppets, a few
frames at a time. It took two weeks of 12 hour days to
prepare and create the elements for a two minute song. (We
were lucky it was a short one!) I think there is a link to
that video somewhere on Yoo Toob. The song was called “Stuck
I still have the original of that album art for Insomniac in
my archives. It was a singular opportunity to participate in
something that became instantly visible world-wide and I
appreciated that Tre and the Green Day Lads enlisted me for
the project. All three of those cats are very good eggs and
the worked hard for all the success they’ve achieved.
As for Ben Harper; I hadn’t known of him till I was moving
the radio dial around one night and came across this
astonishing music. It was an acoustic version of Ben’s song
“Roses from my Friends”. (It was on KUSF, that wonderful and
legendary radio station that was obliterated last year). I
didn’t know who it was so I called them and the DJ told me.
The next day I went down to Tower Records to look for
anything this guy had done. (The “Power of Advertising”. It
works!) Of course Ben had been around forever. It’s just
that I’m so culturally clueless about everything (I’d barely
even heard of Green Day before I was commissioned to do their
album art. The last time I’d heard of them was in a long
line-up at Gilman Street).
At some point later I heard he was going to be performing at
the Warfield where Chick was working as the backstage
caterer. I left a copy of one of my books for him backstage.
Later I happened to be helping out in the kitchen, sweeping
up and washing dishes when one of Ben’s road managers walked
in and recognized me and said he was a big fan of my work.
So one thing led to another and Ben asked me to do an insert
for his next album “Both Sides of the Gun”. So I’m sure glad
I was on dish washing duty that night.
Later he asked me to do the Gatefold album “White Lies for
Dark Times”. He’s also collected some key originals from me
over the years. He was great to work with and we became good
friends. Ben’s one of the nicest and most right-on people I
know. He even offered to perform live at our wedding but it
turned out later he was scheduled to be in Australia on the
big day. I reckon that means we’ll have to get married all
over again next time he’s in town.
Have you done any other work with Jello Biafra
besides your legendary work for The Dead Kennedys?
After my work on several of Dead Kennedys’
singles and Albums (I think I did either the cover or some
inside art in just about all of them) Biafra had me do covers
for several of his spoken word albums. He also had me do
covers for his albums with NoMeansNo and with D.O.A., I can’t
remember them all but there is probably a list at the
Alternative Tentacles website and maybe on mine.
Back in 1980 we were working together on the inside giant
double-sided poster for the first Dead K album “Fresh Fruit
for Rotting Vegetables” and a week or so later Biafra rang me
up on the phone to ask me if I could come up with some kind
of insignia or emblem that the band could use for a logo.
He explained that most bands went by abbreviations (like MDC
for “Millions of Dead Cops”, etc.) and could I do something
with the letters D and K? He said he was looking for
something that would be, shall we say, graphically severe. I
went right to work and that night and spent several hours
experimenting with a type of angular design that (after lots
of trial and error utilizing a secret method) I finally came
up with the DK logo as it appeared in the center of the first
Dead Kennedys album.
And, just for the record: any other version of how the DK
logo was created is, to put it most charitably, “In Error”.
Tell us about your wedding in 2006?
When Chick and I got married we couldn’t book
Westminster Abby or the Coliseum so we settled on our
neighborhood saloon, the Washington Square Bar & Grill.
(What can I say? It was a short commute). Wavy Gravy was
our Master of Ceremonies and it was a festive and joyous
occasion. Short and sweet and lots o’ laffs.
Wavy’s red rubber nose dropped off during the ceremony but I
retrieved it in time for the rings to be swapped. Since it
was something I’d been putting off for over half a century we
figure it might as well be fun for everyone.
Tell us what 2012 has in store for you?
I’m not sure. As long as the Mayan Calendar
doesn’t interfere, and if all the planets don’t line up on
one side of the solar system causing the sun to go nova, then
I hope to accomplish good things this year. Since no one is
really going to hire a 400 year-old raggedy-assed, grey
haired old punk artist for any “real” job I kinda have to
invent my own. They say you can’t teach an old dog new
tricks. (Hell, I never even learned the old tricks).
After many years of working on my kitchen table (or the top
of a wooden stool, actually) I was finally fortunate to
locate a studio that is almost big enough for all my crap. I
am hopelessly disorganized (partly due to my being more than
a little dyslexic) so if something’s out of view it’s out of
mind. The only cure for that is lots of surface area is
needed. The good thing about the studio is that from time to
time I can use it as a gallery for small shows.
I actually have several ideas that have been simmering for
years that would make either interesting graphic novels or
children’s books (though I’m not sure how profitable that
will be, since most children usually have so little hard cash
to spend after their lunch money’s spoken for…)
What I am looking for are interns or helpers who are either
good with computers, excel at organization, have lots of free
time and don’t need to be paid. (In short, someone who is
independently wealthy, has endless energy (and patience), and
actually stayed in school long enough to study the skills
that I was too dyslexic or lazy to acquire).
As a broke artist I’m always scrambling to make ends meet so
about all I can offer is my artwork in trade (and the
satisfaction of knowing they’ve helped an old geezer
underground artist to get his work out into the world). So
any interested parties with talents and skills to spare are
welcomed to forward their applications care of my website.
Like I say, my lack of computer skills means I usually don’t
see most e-mails sent to me but if it makes it through the
pipe Chick will probably spot them and let me know. (Being
twenty years younger than me, Chick is light years better at
using computers, which is a big help).
So there are always new projects to pursue and deadlines to
meet. I am always available for album art and poster work
but I just need to have a long lead time since, as I say, all
of my work is “hand-carved art”, made in the old–world
tradition (that is: slowly). But so far, I’ve never missed a
deadline yet. Though sometimes I feel like I’m never going
to catch up with all that I have planned. Biting off more
than I can chew has been my life’s work. Why change now?
Any Internet addresses that you would like to
share with Punk Globe readers?
Hmmm… outside of my own website,
, I am so utterly clueless about what’s
available on the inter-web that I doubt if I’d have any
suggestions that most people aren’t already aware of. I can
barely turn a computer on or off, which seems to surprise
some people who think my work is done with Photoshop. I wish
I knew how to work Photoshop and other computer stuff that
would speed up my production and organize my work. Instead,
I just use the same knife and glue that I’ve always used for
the last 35 years. Plus lots of 70 year old magazines and
books and cardboard. It’s worse than just “low tech”. It’s
like the cave paintings of Lascaux, it’s positively
Can you tell us about your connection to George
When I was a kid my older brother was an avid
science fiction reader. So when I was a young teenager back
in 1963 he suggested I read Orwell’s novel “1984”. (Later on
it became assigned reading in most schools but usually not
till people were somewhat older. I lucked-out to get exposed
to that book at an early age when most of my school mates
were still watching “Wagon Train” or “Annie Oakley”).
The novel was like a light bulb going on since it explained
in cold, straight language how things actually work, and how
they have always worked. Orwell wasn’t “predicting the
future”, he was just describing the present (as well as the
formula for centuries of state tyranny and manipulation of
In the late 1960s I ran off to Italy since it was cheaper in
those days to live there and study art than it was in the
United States. (Unfortunately that has all now changed, as
so much else has). After nearly 7 years living outside the
U.S. and seeing this country as everyone else in the world
regarded it I finally moved back to America around 1976 (just
in time for all the Bicentennial hype).
In the mean time I had re-read the book and when I got back
to America the contrasts could not have been more striking.
I was shocked to see all the changes that had occurred during
my absence. When I left there was a progressive movement
that was inspiring positive change, though some of it was
indeed random fighting in the streets and culture pranks,
giving the establishment an easy excuse to clamp down on
civil liberties. But once I returned, I felt like Rip Van
Winkle awakening from a long slumber, as if all that energy
and hope for change had been somehow derailed and defused.
For one thing the economy had changed as soon as the real
costs of the war in Viet Nam became clear and the majority of
those people willing to stand up for a new society had
caved-in and joined the Establishment (now there’s a word you
never see much anymore). They were all relaxed and watching
television non-stop and the meaningful aims of the youth
movement of the Sixties became the dissipated “Me” generation
of the ‘70s. (Now it’s the “Me First Generation”).
When I first returned I lived in back in Boston for a while
and it seemed every where I went there were television
“security” cameras everywhere, not just in banks and office
buildings but in dime stores and doughnut shops. And no one
seemed to care. They had all grown used to it as a
reasonable trade-off for more convenience. It really was a
matter of “Give me Convenience or give me Death” (to quote a
title of one of the last Dead Kennedy albums).
At that time I’d been utilizing a couple of different pen
names for some various art styles I was experimenting with
such as Aaron Blurr, Krass Vermin, Rangoon Dandy, etc. One
of them was Winston Smith, since it seemed to me that
nowadays everyone was essentially that character. (Which is
probably why Orwell used the name Smith, being the most
common and anonymous name in the English language---which I’d
personally always thought was the most undistinguished and
boring name anyone could get born with).
So that’s the one that stuck, and since then I’ve actually
lived most of my life under that boring name (about 35 out of
nearly 60 years now). I figured I owed it to my folks and
their good Irish name. After all, since my brand of “art”
was so counter-culture and (at least for their generation)
very shocking, then I figured it would be far easier for me
to change my name than for my whole family to have to go
change their name. As they saw it, I was doing them a favor.
In the mean time the analogy has become even more fitting,
what with the take-over of computers in global society, never
mind the excuse of “security”. The one interesting thing for
me has been to watch how less and less people are aware that
“1984” was ever written, much less are outraged by the
erosion of our civil liberties and the multitude of
environmental insults that have lead us to the brink of
global climate change. Apparently “1984” is no longer
required reading in schools. Too bad. That means people
will have to learn it the hard way. Or not at all.
Any words of advice for young upcoming Artists?
I really wish I had some helpful advice to
offer. I would say that the most useful thing I’ve done in
life is probably to provide others with a bad example of what
not to do. I obviously have no formula for success or I
would have managed a better outcome by now. Any consistent
monetary success has so far eluded me. Any artistic success
I’ve had has been a combination of dumb luck or just being in
the right place at the right time. That’s not really
anything you can plan for, anymore than one can plan for
being struck by a trolley or getting clobbered by a
As an artist you should always hold true to your core beliefs
and remain confident in your own skills and vision.
Developing those skills is probably most important, since I’m
a good example of someone who never did. I have my own
vision but I wish I had the technical skills to match them.
Therefore it’s always been a struggle for me to truly express
that vision since my abilities are limited by my woeful lack
of skills. Being able to make precision cuts in tiny bits of
paper is almost the limit of my technical ability. Perhaps I
should have gone to medical school and then I could’ve made a
good living as a surgeon (---maybe at a pet hospital. Pets
can’t sue for malpractice).
Where I to have it all to do over I would have stayed in
school and learned the basic skills an artist needs to know.
I was always too interested in everything enough to narrow
down my focus to just a few specific disciplines.
Of course, if I had turned myself inside out to learn certain
things it would all be mostly obsolete by now. The
redoubling of computer information on a weekly scale truly
does mean that “everything you know is wrong” (or, at least,
That is probably my only main regret (though I’m sure there
are a few runners-up): not getting a good education. As a
youth I never had the patience to study or the focus to learn
things in a procedural way.
Experiencing life first hand and valuing time with people and
appreciating and encouraging others is, I believe, what we
are here for. You can’t turn back time. So use it wisely
and savor the moment. In the end it isn’t more money or more
luxury or more comforts that you’ll want, it’s more time.
Of course, if I were given more time I’d probably just spend
it making more mistakes. But mistakes aren’t the same as
regrets. So don’t be afraid of making mistakes or making a
fool of your self (after all, I’ve made a career of that.
That’s one of the core elements of the Punk ethos). If
everything went according to plan what a dull world it would
be. Accidents lead to adventure and that can enrich your
life and your artwork as much as anything else. Like they
say; it’s not the things you do that you’ll regret in life.
It’s the things you didn’t do.
So I reckon I would recommend that as a young artist you
should aim to absorb as much as you can about life, more than
art. It is that which will help you become a better artist.
And don’t rush it. It will take a lifetime.
Punk Globe would like to thank Winston Smith for taking the
time to answer these questions to coincide with the fantastic
article that Rebecca G Wilson had written.....