Alim Smith enjoys residing 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 model of portraiture gained recognition on social media when just a few notable names (Erykah Badu, Snoop Dogg, Martin Lawrence) shared his work years in the past; since that publicity, he has exhibited in reveals and continued to promote prints independently. But his massive 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 will 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 model is most neatly outlined as “Afro-Surrealist,” an experimental, whimsical, absurd tackle visible storytelling that reveals Black faces reimagined in ways in which seem past actuality however stay totally human. Beyond portray the portraits of the present’s 4 core solid members, Smith additionally painted the Atlanta title in its traditional typeface and each different ingredient seen on the posters (the Eiffel Tower, a mysterious desert panorama). The finish end result reveals 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 artistic course of appears to be like like, and the inspirations behind his Afro-Surrealist model.
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 need 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, totally different iterations of how these faces could possibly be distorted and contorted. Then I received previous that part.
I needed to do the identical precise part another time, however now in shade and including different little particulars, which was in all probability like one other 100 photos — they usually permitted these. Then they lastly received new photos of the expertise. So I needed to redo your entire course of another time, and this time it was much more strict with extra edits.
When I look again by the entire e 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 properly — 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 method this task and what’s your artistic course of? What instruments and software program do you employ?
I’m not likely a digital painter, I’m rather more of a hands-on, oil painter. [Sometimes] slightly 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 approach 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 fitting photographs and all the things 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 totally different variations of the characters, simply so they might have choices: three totally different variations of Van [Zazie Beetz], two totally different variations of Paper Boi [Brian Tyree Henry], two totally different variations of Darius [LaKeith Stanfield], and solely considered one of Earn [Donald Glover].
I needed to paint the entire particular person portraits. Then I needed to paint the entire totally different little icons within the background which was in all probability like 15 totally different little work, then I needed to paint the precise sky within the background — that was two totally different work. And I needed to paint the bottom and a few shadows, which was about three to 4 totally 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 form of acknowledge who it was.
Why do you suppose the themes in Atlanta mesh properly along with your portray model? What’s Afro-Surrealist about Atlanta?
What’s Afro-Surrealist to me about Atlanta is simply its existence…and the way properly it’s obtained. Like, that’s surreal.
How do you choose your colours? What type of moods and emotions do you attempt to painting?
I believe I actually select them primarily based on how I’d match garments. And additionally, after 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 primarily based off of shade worth. I used to be utilizing a grayscale however with colours; you should use any shade you need so long as you’re following the colour gradient scale of hues and tones.
Did you get to satisfy with Donald Glover or any members of the solid 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 fashionable media, like memes and TV present characters?
I believe the one problem is if you’re creating photos of individuals that folks 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 aspect of the face, you’ll be able to nonetheless usually inform who the particular person is. That’s in all probability the most important problem: simply ensuring you seize the likeness sufficient.
How did it really feel if 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 exterior of my studio and outdoors of the pc display screen continues to be surreal truthfully. 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 finally 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.