Winston Smith; Punk Art Surrealist
As a citizen of the digital world where everything is made on and then displayed on a computer screen of some variety, it can be truly refreshing to feast your eyes on some organically imperfect artwork actually made by hand. With this in mind, lately I’ve been truly enjoying the chaotic surrealist collage work of the legendary artist, Winston Smith.
In keeping with his Orwellian pseudonym, Smith’s body of work is a politically charged commentary on modern life in a commercialized, mass capitalist society. This critical voice and penchant for social commentary dovetailed perfectly with the burgeoning punk scene of the late 1970s and early ’80s, which is when Smith made many of his most well-known works in collaboration with notable West Coast punk rock bands sharing his anti-corporate sentiment.
His frenetic and complicated compositions tend to mimic the Medieval and Renaissance-era scenes painted by greats like Pieter Bruegel and Hieronymus Bosch, or classic history paintings depicting famous battles, and they frequently incorporate pieces of sacred art. All of which I believe is a very purposeful underpinning for the tongue-in-cheek sneer of Smith’s sacrilegious style.
Working exclusively with cut paper and found art, his source material naturally comes from non-digital sources of a bygone era as well. What I love most about looking through his pieces is the warm, saturated-yet-faded color palette that these amalgamations all seem to share. As clippings from mid-century advertisements, pulp magazines, renaissance-era art prints, and wartime propaganda posters all layer on top of each other one-by-one, you start to see a common aesthetic emerge from piece to piece, comprised of soft edges, hand-drawn lines, muddy earth tones, and stippled shading. All of these visual qualities which are so pleasing to my eye are also so distinctly non-digital. These new pieces assembled from old repurposed artifacts, have a dual function as a sort of time capsule, documenting a swiftly vanishing aesthetic in our new landscape of telescreens.
A selection of a few of my favorite pieces:
“When the Lights Go On Again All Over the World”
“Another Day at the Office”
“It’s For You”
“Saint Francis Preaching to the Appliances” (2013)
“The Futility of a Well-Ordered Life”
“Singing in the Reign of Terror” (2012)