Point 'Em Out is an editorial series where we'll be exploring the latest and the greatest in Black art. Thanks to modern-day technology, we get to be virtual consumers of yesterday's icons and today’s most innovative Black artwork, and — if we're lucky — the Black geniuses who produce them.
As white artists dominate the art industry in visibility and in sales, these artists continue to push the envelope with out-the-box creativity that never ceases to amaze i.e. Alim Smith.
Perhaps you’ve encountered his painterly excellence while trolling the Twitterverse and those Instagram streets, where he is better identified as @yesterdaynite. In the wake of our collective mourning over the death of Nipsey Hussle, the artist blessed followers with a beautifully executed portrait titled "Ermias Asghedom."
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This shit hit me differently, Didn’t wanna believe the tweets, was hoping for a April fools! The next day, started hoping that Nipsey was Jesus because he passed at 33 and was gonna come back and say of us from the bullshit He was really out here doing what sooooooooooooo many of us say we wanna do when we get money money And then i felt rage, like really?? ???? niggas that lost ? It’s really no hope What’s wrong wit these fragile ass niggas that can only communicate through death and destruction to their own It’s not fair But it’s only gonna inspire more artist of all genres to go as hard as they can It only makes nipsey more immortal And his legacy live on forever It strengthens the mission he already had Love to you and your family Thank you for your contribution to the world Flesh is temporary Energy never dies Safety to you on your journey Thank you for being the right example To me and so many others ———— Ermias Asghedom Oil on canvas 16 x 20 —————————— Artwork & prints available at ydnite.com
Many likely first became familiar with Smith and his work after he snatched social media wigs, posting uncanny oil paintings of the innanet’s most popular memes in honor of Black History Month. The imagination and skill behind these works cannot be overstated.
Blavity caught up with the talented Smith to learn about his motivations and get into his mastermind.
Blavity: Where are you from, and when did you first start painting?
Alim Smith: I’m from Wilmington, Delaware. I started drawing at the age of four, if not earlier. I went to middle and high school at Cab Calloway School of the Arts, and almost everything we created was pencil art in black and white. I started painting around 19 or 20 — so 10 years ago. When I got out of school, I immersed myself into color. [I] never painted in school, but learned a lot of foundation for my art practice, so I started teaching myself how to paint around 2010.
Blavity: How would you describe the art you create?
Smith: I would describe the art I create as Afrosurrealism. One of the best pieces of Afrosurrealism I was introduced [to] at an early age was The Wiz. It was an all-Black world I’ve never seen before that I wanted to live in.
Blavity: I definitely sense the surrealist style. What is it about painting in that uncanny and outlandish realm?
Smith: I like to paint in the outlandish realm because that’s my favorite art to look at. I feel it is the best blends of skill and imagination. I want to create something that has the depth and dimension of reality, with the twist of the bizarre places my mind goes that no one could ever see unless I show them. For me, it’s important to create something that has a realistic quality, no matter how outlandish it is, so the viewer feels like they are getting a peek into another world.
Blavity: Your work garnered viral attention for one reason, outside of it being damn good technically and aesthetically: The use of popular memes for Black History Month. Could you tell us what sparked your thought to produce paintings of popular memes?
Smith: What sparked my mind to produce paintings of popular memes was jealousy (chuckles). I was looking at how the internet was responding to art and how much more attention memes were receiving in comparison. I had the thought that my art would never get shared and reposted as many times as any meme would.
I thought to myself, "Memes are the next wave of art. I should just start painting memes, because these faces and expressions are already programmed into so many people's psyche. Maybe if I paint memes, I can get my art seen and shared and hopefully turned into a meme because memes live on."
Blavity: How did you react to the virality of your work?
Smith: I was definitely overwhelmed, because I was truly just trying to paint something I thought a few people would find cool. What that moment really let me know about myself is that I had some super, duper, high standard of when I would personally feel confident in saying that I am an artist. That moment forced me to accept that title and in accepting that title, I felt the good pressure of creating the quality of art I always pictured I could create, when I was daydreaming in art school.
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What you mean? 18 x 24 Oil on Canvas I really enjoyed painting this one! Ive seen this expression all of my life lol and i also didn't know I could paint teeth lol, I'm gonna paint way more happy black people now lol It's weird after painting these pictures and looking at them I feel like I actually know these people lol and I obviously don't but I never realised how valuable expression and being expressive is. I really really really fucking appreciate everyone who enjoy the work and shares it oh yeah! ART SHOW MARCH 31st WILMINGTON DELAWARE CHRIS WHITE GALLERY 701 N. SHIPLEY STREET from 6-10 pm its gonan be a fucking dope show! memes.eventbrite.com Thank you!!! @swaggyp1
Blavity: Clearly, pop culture and the digital era are closely tied. You've chosen to paint these images traditionally — oil on canvas. Had you considered digital graphic iterations when you approached this work?
Smith: Nah, I never considered digital graphic iterations. I think digital is cool, but I don’t feel it’s as challenging to me, and I can’t touch it. Digital work can be put into museums, but I don’t feel it has the same effect as someone seeing a painting someone made that looks so clean it appears digital. I’d never want someone to see my art and not appreciate [it] as much, because it was made with a computer.
Blavity: What are your thoughts on traditional versus tech, when it comes to technique?
Smith: I think digital is cool, but I prefer traditional. In Photoshop, you have access to a million colors at your disposal. You can twist bend and edit anything. You can delete forever. You can copy and paste eyes to be perfectly centered. You can have an infinite number of layers, and it’s great for certain things. But I don’t like the idea that if the power goes out, I can’t create anymore; or the computer freezing before you pressed save, which I’ve experienced. I like the experience of blending and mixing my own colors. Now, you definitely save money going digital, which I always support. But I just feel you lose something, and you have to stare at screens for an unnaturally long amount of time with option tabs, and buttons, and messages popping up. It’s too close to YouTube.
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Another Great Meme History One of the most Iconic Snitches in Black History "I'd Like to Report A……" 18 x 24 Oil on Canvas THIS WAS DIFFICULT AND I hate cameras because they really don't do pictures any justice, so I had to scan this in sections Meme prints available at ydnite.com (Link in bio) The first set I'm sending out will all be signed
Blavity: Who is your work for?
Smith: My work is for Black people, but also for whoever connects with it. But I’m definitely creating with Black people in mind and heart.
Blavity: What's next for Alim Smith?
Smith: Expanding on my Afro Mythology series.
(Note: “Afro mythology” is a term that was coined by photographer Sean Theodore.)
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