February 24, 2022
With the evolution of memes, one of the internet’s most recognized forms of expression, comes the evolution of meme artists. For Black History Month, we’ve partnered with Alim Smith (@yesterdaynite) to showcase this ever-changing form of artin a live event.
For this partnership, Smith created 25 oil paintings to showcase the most iconic Black memes in his unique style. We sat down with the creator to understand his process, from style to plan and execution.
Q: There are a lot of memes across the internet, what about the ones you selected are special for this moment to showcase your work?
A: Because it’s Black History Month, and these ones stuck out to me the most. And it could be—not even related to people— it could be related to my own inner feelings. I might have chosen the memes that capture how I feel right now. I feel like the ones I did previously had a lot more levity. Not that these don't and others are all just like sad or mad frustrated expression. But they have a little bit more feeling than other things I’ve painted.
I feel like the emotions that I chose really capture pandemic energy. They capture how the world feels right now to me, at least or what the world looks like to me right now.
Q: How did you come up with your art style? How did memes become the basis of some of your artwork, notably the Crying Jordan meme?
A: I went to art school from sixth grade to 12th grade. Like a drawing school — Cab Calloway School of the Arts. I had to apply to get in—I had to apply like three times to get in, and I didn't get in in high school when I applied, so I had to apply two times just to get back into the same spot that I was already accepted into. I got in. We [students] did no painting, no colorful pictures, really no cartoons. It was just all drawing just straight up black and white. “How good are you? Can you draw what's in front of you in real life?” So that's a big part of my style because it just made me lean towards realism or detailed things in general.
When I would sit down, drawing on a piece of paper, I would draw a face or I would draw an object and it would look just like the object. The shading would be accurate, everything would be accurate. But when I would pick the piece of paper, it would be so lopsided. I couldn't tell that it was that off when I was looking at it, sitting. So over time, I used to hate that and I used to critique it so hard. Later on, I started to accept it. And just lean into it because I'm like “okay, the colors are right, the shading is right. It's off, but you can still tell exactly what it is. Just go with this.”
Q: What was your process like for giving these artworks titles? How did you think about naming your exhibit, Family Reunion?
A: When I look at all these pictures together, it looks to me like a Tyler Perry movie. But also, like a chaotic Tyler Perry movie which is funny. I felt like memes create a familial relationship between people. So many people could not even know what the meme is. But they can all relate to the expression. I know exactly what that is. I know when I felt that way.
Q: There are 25 pieces you painted, but we have to ask, which painting was your favorite to produce and why?
A: It was a disappearing meme. I just called it ‘Peace’, a fan called peace or discipline. But it's just cool to do this kind of fading away. And that's my favorite because I never painted something that looked opaque before. Like kind of fading away but you can still see it. And I just love the illusion of creating a body through the piece.
Q: Can you tell us what your favorite part about this Instagram collaboration was?
A: One: the opportunity, absolutely insane to me. Second, the challenge. I enjoy the challenge of pushing myself to the limit of how many things I can do in a set timeframe. If I don't want to work on this right now, I just don't have to work on it, so I can come back to it. I can work on something for months and weeks and years. So I like the challenge. I think that was like my favorite part. The challenge to complete it and make it not look rushed. Make it presentable. Like a challenge to figure out new techniques and new ways to approach things I've already done before to make it easier for me in the future.