On my daily Instagram feed, I organically came across the artwork of Alim Smith AKA @yesterdaynite. I was instantly hooked by the different portraits, colours and style that Alim holds. His talent for taking a portrait and turning it into an appealing painting of facial displacement that grabs your attention is something that has to be praised. How he can play with today’s meme culture and add a twist to those photos we all send to our friends that can pinpoint exactly how we feel, shows his intelligence in knowing how to actively capture his audience. His artistic blends, strongly accented colours and recognizable content provide the base for his art while the viewer’s creativity and imagination perfect the experience.
Check out our interview with the Delaware-based artist who shares why it’s important for his art to be in the hands of people of colour, his most humbling experience and his advice on anyone pursuing a career in a creative field… (hint he references Soulja Boy.).
Can you tell me about your growing up and how you got started with drawing and painting?
I started taking it seriously in sixth grade, well fifth grade… because I was trying to follow this girl who I had a crush on, she had gone away to Cab Calloway to dance… And she got accepted and it was an art school and I said, “I want to be wherever she is”, so that’s why I started drawing and writing. I got in for writing, I didn’t even get in for drawing. That’s what made me start taking it seriously, was once I got to school. So it was really a girl when we were in the fifth grade that made me follow art.
Did you have anyone in particular, like your parent or sibling or someone who kind of pushed you to continue doing it?
My mom always pushed me to keep colouring and drawing, I remember she was the first person that showed me fire had three different colours, it wasn’t just red. That was in kindergarten, I remember her showing me that it was like red, orange and blue and you can add some white. That was the first time I remember blending. I remember my uncle, he passed, but he used to come by with these crazy-looking African masks that he would carve and I was in love with those.
What is the process in creating a piece? Do you, draw it out first? Do you paint it out first? And how long does it usually take? Lets use the Snoop Dogg piece as an example.
I do a fan sketch and I start painting. These days, I’m working on them [more] and doing thumbnails, sketching and then re-drawing them. I’m taking it more seriously now. All those really colourful pictures, those take about a day. I try to put all the energy I could possibly put into it.
If I take too long on a piece I probably lose interest in it.
You have a piece of a man with a phone painted on his face and the caption is “everyone’s faces are in their phones, we don’t see people anymore except through our phones” I find that interesting because the meme culture you paint is based on the same idea – people being on their phone so much that we’ve made memes. Would you say your artwork has a hint of satire?
What I’m inspired by and what I listen to most of the time, when I’m not listening to rap, is comedy podcasts. A lot of my ideas are satire [based] most of the time. Shit’s crazy, this whole world – nothing makes sense everything is just absolutely absurd. That piece was supposed to be a part of a way longer series. Most of my pictures have a bunch of other pieces that go with them, but I just didn’t have the time to do it.
Did you lose interest?
No, the meme pictures, I was ready to do those two years ago in my mind, but I knew I wasn’t there yet.
Sometimes my ideas, I feel they deserve a level of quality that I might not be ready to paint at a certain stage in my artistry.
You said you were eager to get art materials and such from POC, and you stated that not enough POC are represented. Can you tell me in your words why this so important for you to stick by?
The reason why I want my art to be in the hands of people of colour is because I feel like black people have a really high taste level. Whatever we think is the dopest shit, is the dopest shit.
I want to make the best art possible and if black people fuck with my art, it’s the best art I can possibly make.
You have a large following on Twitter and Instagram, now that you have this platform do you feel obligated to speak on these topics?
I have to speak about important things, otherwise there’s no point to have people paying attention.
How do the celebrity encounters and you giving them your art happen?
Honestly the Universe. Somebody might just hit me up like “yo I’m going to see Solange today if you could make a picture that would be dope”. That’s really how everything in my life is going, just random things happening. I painted that picture the same day.
What was Solange like tho?
Solange was really cool! I didn’t even fuck with her that much, I fucked with her husband. He was cool as shit. She was just smiling and chill, she was lit that night.
What has been the most humbling experience for you?
The most humbling experience is vending my artwork. Most people message me saying they love my artwork and comment, and I appreciate that, but when I’m vending you see people walk by like “oh my gosh I love you and follow you, I love your art”. Even when people just walk by and you know they know [who you are], that’s humbling because you [realize] the love doesn’t always equate to money.
Are there any other avenues as an artist you want to explore that you haven’t yet?
Sculpting, music, making movies. Everything that has to do with art.
What are you doing when you’re not doing art?
When I’m not doing art I’m probably outside walking on some random trail, chilling with friends, or thinking. Because of the internet, people are in such a rush to upload pictures instead of really thinking of a quality idea, they are in a rush to put out bullshit.
What would you tell someone who is pursuing art and is finding it challenging?
Soulja boy did it. If Soulja Boy can do it and you don’t think you can do it, you shouldn’t be doing it. But if Soulja boy did it and that makes you think you can do it, then you should do it.
If you have actual talent and there are people without talent getting by, you just have to put the work into it.
Can you give a little snippet of your up-and-coming series coming out in the beginning of August?
It’s a mix of Gulliver’s Travels, Get Out and gentrification.
Is there anything else you want to add?
The Tupac movie was absolutely unacceptable. If you’re an artist, don’t do that; don’t make anything like the Tupac movie, don’t disrespect legacy. Jay Z’s album, 4:44 is the best he’s ever made. Art is an investment.