Alim Smith enjoys dwelling in and dealing from his native Delaware as a result of, as he describes it, “it’s just a bunch of parks and no competition.” The 31-year-old multidisciplinary artist and his exaggerated type of portraiture gained reputation on social media when a couple of notable names (Erykah Badu, Snoop Dogg, Martin Lawrence) shared his work years in the past; since that publicity, he has exhibited in exhibits and continued to promote prints independently. But his huge break, arguably, got here final summer time, when he was invited to audition to color the promotional artwork for season three of FX’s Atlanta (which premiered March 24). It could be seen on billboards, bus stops, and plastered on partitions round Los Angeles and in cities everywhere in the nation.
“I love this show,” Smith says. “I’ve been watching what Donald Glover has been doing since I was in high school when he was on YouTube.”
Smith’s type is most neatly outlined as “Afro-Surrealist,” an experimental, whimsical, absurd tackle visible storytelling that exhibits Black faces reimagined in ways in which seem past actuality however stay totally human. Beyond portray the portraits of the present’s 4 core forged members, Smith additionally painted the Atlanta title in its basic typeface and each different component seen on the posters (the Eiffel Tower, a mysterious desert panorama). The finish outcome exhibits all of those separate oil work superimposed on one another, creating a pointy distillation of the present and its universe.
Smith spoke to The Hollywood Reporter by cellphone about how he embraced this chance, what his inventive course of appears like, and the inspirations behind his Afro-Surrealist type.
How did it come about that you’d illustrate the Atlanta season 3 key artwork?
In August 2021, somebody not from FX however an individual who was just like the facilitator for all of their initiatives hit me up and requested me if I’d wish to work on Atlanta posters. It began off with an audition: I had to attract these black and white photos. I in all probability drew like 80 photos, completely different iterations of how these faces could possibly be distorted and contorted. Then I obtained previous that part.
I needed to do the identical precise part over again, however now in shade and including different little particulars, which was in all probability like one other 100 photos — they usually authorized these. Then they lastly obtained new photos of the expertise. So I needed to redo the complete course of over again, and this time it was much more strict with extra edits.
When I look again by the entire electronic mail threads, it was over 300 photos simply to get to the purpose the place I may begin portray the portraits. So for 5 months, I wasn’t engaged on any work. I used to be simply doing digital renditions and sketches — some bodily sketches as effectively — for 5 months straight, simply to get to the purpose the place they could possibly be like, “Okay, now you can paint.”
How did you strategy this project and what’s your inventive course of? What instruments and software program do you employ?
I’m not likely a digital painter, I’m far more of a hands-on, oil painter. [Sometimes] just a little little bit of acrylic paint. I prefer to sculpt.
So the posters and billboards we see are prints of your oil work?
Yeah, they’re. The solely purpose I used to be doing digital edits is as a result of there’s no method I may try this many edits hand drawn. I’d do a sketch, after which I’d digitize it in order that I may do little edits in Photoshop and on my iPad.
When they agreed that these have been the suitable photographs and all the pieces was good, then I used to be allowed to color them. I’d say I needed to paint eight portraits all collectively. And I needed to paint it like I used to be doing it in Photoshop. So I needed to paint eight completely different variations of the characters, simply so they may have choices: three completely different variations of Van [Zazie Beetz], two completely different variations of Paper Boi [Brian Tyree Henry], two completely different variations of Darius [LaKeith Stanfield], and solely one in every of Earn [Donald Glover].
I needed to paint the entire particular person portraits. Then I needed to paint the entire completely different little icons within the background which was in all probability like 15 completely different little work, then I needed to paint the precise sky within the background — that was two completely different work. And I needed to paint the bottom and a few shadows, which was about three to 4 completely different work.
When you have been creating the drafts for the FX and Atlanta groups, what was their suggestions like?
They needed me to tug again; I went so bizarre. I got here up with some actually bizarre work types. But they needed me to dial it again so individuals may nonetheless sort of acknowledge who it was.
Why do you suppose the themes in Atlanta mesh effectively together with your portray type? What’s Afro-Surrealist about Atlanta?
What’s Afro-Surrealist to me about Atlanta is simply its existence…and the way effectively it’s obtained. Like, that’s surreal.
How do you choose your colours? What kind of moods and emotions do you attempt to painting?
I believe I actually select them based mostly on how I’d match garments. And additionally, once I was in artwork college, it was principally all black and white. And the colour pencils and markers have been so costly. So I’d simply use no matter colours I had and make them work simply based mostly off of shade worth. I used to be utilizing a grayscale however with colours; you need to use any shade you need so long as you might be following the colour gradient scale of hues and tones.
Did you get to satisfy with Donald Glover or any members of the forged throughout this course of?
I didn’t get to satisfy them. But I do know that a few the actors will in all probability be getting the unique work. And I do know that all of them needed to log off on their likeness, so I couldn’t begin portray till all of them stated: “Yes, this looks like me enough.”
Your work was proven at an Instagram pop-up exhibit this previous February in Los Angeles referred to as “Family Reunion,” paying tribute to Black meme tradition. What are some challenges that come up when creating artwork from in style media, like memes and TV present characters?
I believe the one problem is once you’re creating photos of individuals that individuals already know, and ensuring I don’t get too bizarre. Making positive that even when the attention is off middle, and the mouth is hanging off of the facet of the face, you’ll be able to nonetheless usually inform who the individual is. That’s in all probability the largest problem: simply ensuring you seize the likeness sufficient.
How did it really feel once you lastly noticed the posters out on this planet?
It was surreal. I’ve been trying on the items for months, so to see them outdoors of my studio and outdoors of the pc display screen continues to be surreal actually. When I take a look at the little Hulu icon I’m like, “I was just watching the show a couple months ago. Now my art is the thing that directs you to the show!”
How do you in the end outline Afro-Surrealism, and what are your influences?
The easiest model is simply: bizarre and Black. For me, I really feel prefer it’s on the intersection of hip-hop and Dr. Seuss. I spotted my curiosity in surrealism is due to Dr. Seuss; I believe a whole lot of Dr. Seuss’s drawings are impressed by Salvador Dali…and MC Escher. Seeing all of these bizarre, warped homes and studying these Dr. Seuss tales with loopy characters and nothing however rhyme…it’s just like the intersection of hip-hop and Dr. Seuss.