When Wes Winship saw the flashlight, he knew there was an awkward conversation with the police in his future.
“Let’s just stand here because we’re adults, and if he tells us to leave, we’ll leave,” he remembers thinking. “But as soon as he got within 20 feet, he was like ‘Halt! Get on your knees!’ Then he cuffed us.”
This was not a situation you want to be in 2,000 miles from home, on a beach, surrounded by paint cans, in front of a 50-foot tribute mural to Lemmy Kilmister from Motörhead.
But Winship, a Minneapolis artist and the owner/operator of Burlesque of North America, played it cool. After all, it was his mural, and it wasn’t new. He’d originally painted the tribute to the famed singer and bassist on that Ocean Beach, California, wall two years earlier, in “one long night” on December 28, 2015, the day Lemmy died.
Little did Winship know that his art would end up costing him and his friend Cory Weisskirk thousands of dollars in bail and fines. This weekend, a benefit to defray those costs, featuring local acts Poliça, Dillinger Four, and Personhurter, will take place at Modist Brewery.
Winship never expected his illicit, dangerous tribute to rock 'n' roll’s most illicit, dangerous frontman to last long—street art often gets painted over by another street artist or taken down by public officials. He was surprised to see it still in January 2018. It was practically begging for a touch-up.
“I was in town to visit my mother for the holidays, and just decided, just because it had made it there so long, let’s see what will happen if we brighten it back up again,” he says.
But after several hours on the beach, starting at four in the afternoon, Winship and Weisskirk found themselves detained and interrogated by a series of increasingly cranky cops.
“The commanding officer showed up and he was just pissed off, like he’d been woken up or something, in sweatpants, long hair, on a vape pen the entire time,” Winship says. “I mean, he looked like he would be a Motörhead fan.” Despite earlier assurances from the police who found them that they’d be let go, the commander locked them up for felony vandalism.
After crazy night in jail (“everybody in there sounded like they were coming off drugs”) and a $2,500 non-refundable payment to a bondsman on a $25,000 bail, Winship and Weisskirk’s journey through the legal system had just begun. They flew frequently between Minneapolis and San Francisco, facing additional charges from prosecutors who made bloated claims of how much it would cost to paint over the mural. Public defenders were dumbfounded by how aggressively the state was pursuing the case. The end result? The charges were dropped and the artists agreed to pay $2,560 in restitution.
The bail, restitution, and plane tickets added up to a huge chunk of money, but Winship’s friends were happy to help. Local producer Ryan Olsen initially offered to have Marijuana Deathsquads play a 20- minute cover of “Ace of Spades,” but scheduling issues interfered. Instead, the other bands stepped up and Modist—where Winship has done art, including live paintings during shows—made this little benefit show into a huge deal. Faced with the possibility of actually making more money than he and Weisskirk needed, Winship worked out a partnership with Motörhead’s official team, who suggested that they give what’s left over to Stand up and Shout, a cancer fund established in honor of Ronnie James Dio.
And after all this, what of the mural? Did the authorities paint over it?
“Nope,” Winship says with a laugh. “Still there.”
Win Some, Lose Some: A Benefit, After the Fact, for Public Art
With: Poliça, Dillinger Four, and Personhurter
Where: Modist Brewery
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, April 28
Tickets: $12; more info here