The Dead Kennedys Logo Gets Its Due in New 'Art of Punk' Documentary
Following excellent and illuminating looks into the gritty artwork that powered Black Flag and Crass, Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art continues its in-depth documentary series The Art of Punk with a look at the art of the Dead Kennedys. Over the course of roughly 13 minutes, the film traces the union of visual artist Winston Smith and the band's former frontman Jello Biafra and how it led to the creation of one of the most iconic punk logos, the group's jagged "DK." Highlights include Winston recalling how he trolled young punks by making fliers for fake bands playing fake clubs, Jello Biafra talking about his ridiculous wall collages and how a picture of shriners became the cover of Frankenchrist and, of course, the always excited-sounding, loudmouth singer's trademark lisp saying, "What if Crass was funny?"
"A lot of the artwork at the time, looked very much like the dada period: things just cut out of something else and slapped together," Winston recalled of the late '70s in the film. After he refined his art, he eventually found his depiction of a crucifix made of dollar bills as the inspiration for the Dead Kennedys' In God We Trust, Inc. EP, released in 1981. "Most of the collages I see, even the ones that are done digitally, are done Winston-style," Biafra said in the doc. "Winston is the blueprint. He is probably the most influential collage artist of the past 40 or 50 years."
The clip ends with the story of how Biafra asked Smith to create an "emblem" for the band, which he did with arranging toothpicks. The logo, of course, became so easy-to-make that it has long outlasted the band, which hasn't put out a record since 1986 despite reuniting without Biafra after a bitter legal battle. "I kept thinking, Damn, if I just got royalties off of tattoos and graffiti, I'd be rich," Winston says in the doc. "I don't think it's a totally genius idea, I don't think it's a masterpiece, it's just a little clever, kind of angular symbol. I'm surprised it still is around."