From vibrant album covers to bold portraits of African American icons, Alim Smith, the Delaware-based artist known as Yesterdaynite, has created a unique niche with his work. Smith, a self-described Afro-Surrealist, prides himself in incorporating more than a mélange of his own experiences—it's in his DNA. MERRY JANE connected with Smith ahead of his latest exhibition, NOTHING AT ALL, to take a look into his roots.
MERRY JANE: Your work is unflinching and personal. How important is it to you to connect with your roots?
Alim: Connecting to my roots means EVERYTHING. I got the whole ancestry DNA test, found out most of my DNA is from Togo and Benin, where Voodoo was started. Oddly enough my uncle, who passed away, knew nothing of where we came from.
He used to sculpt weird Voodoo masks and wear them as necklaces. When I was younger I was so incredibly drawn to them, I begged him to give me one, and I really think the way he sculpted those faces really influenced my style with the abstract pieces. I'm trying to make all of them look like stolen African masks.
MJ: Is it important to be politically conscious?
A: To a degree, depending on who you are and what matters. There are Souljah Boys and Kendrick Lamars and a bunch of different kinda artists in between—its important to be politically conscious if that means something to you.
MJ: I understand you have a solo exhibition scheduled for June 3rd in Philadelphia. What can we expect from NOTHING AT ALL?
A: What you can expect at NOTHING AT ALL is just weird pieces that reflect how I feel about whats going on in the black community from the perspective of someone who thinks the universe we live in might be a simulation.
MJ: Why live painting?
A: People want live painting at their events and are willing to pay for it, so I don't argue.
MJ: How have you grown since In Living Color: My Living History?
A: Since In Living Color, I've been inspired to create every thought that comes to my mind, because In Living Color was just a result of doing what I felt. I had no idea people would gravitate towards it at all. For a second I got caught in the mind state that I had to keep creating pieces like that which hindered my growth a bunch, but I've finally gotten to a place of "FUCK IT" do what you feel, the art will create the audience don't worry about pandering.
MJ: You're a self-described Afro Surrealist. When did you get into Surrealism?
A: I think I got into Surrealism my sophomore year of high school because I got really tired of drawing realistic pictures of faces.
MJ: You've dabbled with minimalism including some line drawings. Is it important to switch up your format and style?
A: I feel I have to change my style consistently because doing the same thing is soooo boring, I admire artists that can stick to a particular style but doing the same thing over and over just doesn't inspire me to create. I want to paint things that I'd buy and hang up in my house, and I'd never buy a million pictures that look the same.
MJ: You were diagnosed with epilepsy by the time you graduated high school. Is your work ever a result of personal challenges that you've faced in the past?
A: I actually never really address myself in my artwork, which is about to change. I often do what I think people might find interesting, but I'm slowly getting past that stage. For a long time, I looked at art as something I could do that people liked but not something that could actually be therapeutic.
MJ: Philadelphia is home to some incredible mural art. You hail from nearby in Delaware. Did you grow up seeing murals and how did that influence you?
A: Actually there are zero murals in Delaware—I mean a couple, but nothing you see on the regular at all. My homie @terranecism and I plan to change that. After going to Art Basel and having our minds completely blown, we realized how important murals were and how they can completely change and inspire a community.
MJ: How did you connect with Kelechi for the album cover art to Before the Quarter?
A: I connected with Kelechi through Instagram. He saw my work from a Green Label repost and felt that my aesthetic would fit his album which was dope as hell! [I love] the album and the fact that he thought that highly of my work.
NOTHING AT ALL's opening is at western Philadelphia's renowned Urban Art Gallery Friday, June 3, 2016 at 6PM (EST).
The event also features live painting from Terrance Van. Tickets are available here.