I can’t even pinpoint the moment I saw Alim Smith’s artwork pop up on my Twitter feed. But once I saw his work, it immediately reminded me of something you’d imagine a modern-day Picasso creating. And with social media the way that it is, Smith is currently riding the wave of his viral internet fame.
As with anything to do with the internet and going viral, if you don’t jump on the opportunity and take advantage of it, you’ll be left with just a remembrance of those retweets and a few lingering mentions. In a conversation with Smith, I tried not to sound like an overbearing big sister giving advice, but I wanted to know about his work and how he plans to make his 15 minutes last.
Smith, a 26-year-old artist from Wilmington, Del., has been drawing since he was a kid but only started painting five years ago, and refers to himself as an “Afro-Surrealist” painter. Smith honed his skills while attending the Cab Calloway School of the Arts for both middle and high school. Although he didn’t attend college, art, and the desire to learn, never left him.
Smith’s most recent work includes faces of those popular memes we love and laugh at. From Michael Jordan’s infamous crying meme to the GOP black guy in his middle-school-looking polo, Smith has perfectly captured the art of memes.
“I feel like the first ones [memes] I did, were really popular, but I have noticed that there aren’t a lot of black women memes out there,” Smith said after asking me what were some of my favorite memes.
As we tried to come up with some popular memes with black women, we discussed other work he did that caught the eye of his favorite rapper, Andre 3000.
“Erykah Badu messaged me yesterday. What?” Smith said of a drawing he previously did of Badu and Andre 3000.
“She uploaded a painting I did of her and Andre. And asked me to paint another. She says that Andre walks by the painting all the time and he’s addicted. Like, that’s my favorite rapper,” Smith said.
As for his favorite memes, Smith’s include Uncle Denzel Washington and Ike Turner, although he considers the Turner meme problematic. Currently, Smith is working on a painting depicting Reece Simpson, aka Roll Safe, a character created by the British filmmaker and actor Kayode Ewumi. But as with most memes, pinpointing who they are isn’t the easiest thing to do.
“I don’t really know the names of any of these memes. I just know the pictures. Like, the African baby with the side eye? Who is that baby?” Smith asked.
Well, apparently, according to the internet, that baby is known as “Skeptical African child.”
Smith says the most important part of his work, when it comes to painting the memes, is actually capturing the expressions of the subjects, simply because black people are full of expressions.
“I realized with drawing the memes, I liked drawing the expressions. It’s important to capture expressions; we’re not just plain-faced chilling people. We’re always making faces. It’s how we talk,” Smith said.
When it comes to capturing the viral fame, Smith says he does plan to sell prints, but he’s still trying to figure it all out because the sudden attention caught him off guard.
“This got really intense. Really fast. So now, I’m just trying to figure it all out. One day I woke up one morning, and things were ridiculous,” Smith said.
One bit of advice I did give Smith is that it doesn’t make sense (or cents) to go viral without profiting from it. Nowadays, you don’t want to end up like Peaches Monroe, with a catchphrase like “Eyebrows on fleek,” who is now trying to use a GoFundMe to make money.
“Everybody is saying I’m famous and shit. Yeah, it’s cool, but it ain’t real until the money rolls in,” Smith said.
Smith has already had to put an end to people putting his photos on T-shirts, after a friend of his came across one online. Smith says his friends have helped him keep track of people jacking his shit.
“I’m going to sell prints. But I have no interest in selling my originals. I really want to take this on tour. I really want to end up in [New York’s Museum of Modern Art] or something,” Smith stated.
Smith is currently prepping for an upcoming exhibition at the Chris White Gallery in Wilmington, and his work will be on display. Something tells me that once more people see his work, it just might end up in MoMA.
“This series is just like music. It’s like a mixtape. It’s a good mixtape, but I have several albums that I need to release in the upcoming years. These are cute, funny pictures, but I really want to leave an impact for real,” Smith said. “There are tons of black artists, but most black people can’t name five artists.”