Flyers by Winston Smith
If you don’t know who Winston Smith is then you aren’t punk. End of story. And if you aren’t punk, that’s cool, we aren’t here to judge. Still, even if you don’t know Winston, you might at least recognize some of his record-sleeve designs and logos, like the Dead Kennedys’ spiky dk emblem, and virtually all of their best covers. Much of Winston’s work revolves around surreal collages, which over time have become images of uncritical devotion in all-ages teen centers and disgusting, dilapidated squats alike.
Before his work was fully canonized, Winston was an art school kid who’d just hitchhiked to San Francisco and gotten sucked into the then-burgeoning punk scene. At this time, he put together a series of flyers for fake bands he made up, complete with shows at fake venues. This body of work has only been seen by people who tore them off telephone poles back in the day, but I’ve been slowly buying them off Winston, one at a time, for the past decade. Now I have them all. Lucky for you, I’ve let VICE run a few in the gallery above. I also had a nice little conversation with Winston about these flyers. We discussed the early punk scene, why he made them, and why they are all crooked.
VICE: Hi Winston! Can you explain what compelled you to make all these fictitious show flyers?
Winston Smith: Sure! When the punk scene was emerging in San Francisco, there was this riot of wacky graphic anarchy that was manifested with an avalanche of posters and deviant assemblages plastered around the city. Since San Francisco is such a physically small city—it’s really a walking town—posters were the way people communicated about new shows or events. Most of the flyers back then were unintelligible, advertising events, but a small amount were for nothing having to do with anything. They were just made to be. Their only reason for existing was to see if you were paying attention. I found that to be a great inspiration. Since I was a talentless hack with no musical skills or connections in the punk scene, I saw this as an opportunity to dive into a world where an obscuro-nobody like myself could have a voice. At last, a chance to be a real nobody, with nothing to say!
When did you get started on these?
The end of 1976 and the beginning of 1977. I immediately set about slapping together my own versions of posters for bands that lived entirely in my imagination. I wheat pasted the flyers all over San Francisco—some of them lasted a long time, like several months. Most were gone as fast as I could put them up. Eventually, the flyers led to publishing an underground zine with a friend. We called it Fallout, and it featured a section that had interviews with these fake bands. I tried to create a whole fake scene within a real scene. But if I’d known how much work some of these fake things would take to create, I probably wouldn’t have even started.
I imagine these haven’t been seen by anyone besides the people who noticed them at the time.
I didn’t keep much of an accurate archive back then. I didn’t have the impetus, or the room to do so. I never thought these would be around for more than a year, much less 35 years later. I also didn’t make too many of each fake band flyer. There was no Kinko’s back then, and the only way I could cheaply reproduce my work was to hitch down to my friend’s studio to shoot the originals.
So there were no photocopy machines back then?
Nobody believes me, but at that time this was all there was. It was a serious commitment of time and energy, and sometimes that was before I could even assemble the piece. Now anyone can press the print button and self-publish a book if they want, but back then it was like breaking rocks with your teeth.
What were some other problems you had making these flyers?
I could never get them even. There’s a guarantee of authenticity—that’s why the layouts are all crooked.
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