California Creatives: Nikkolas Smith Part 2/2

Sep 12, 2016 | Art

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]We continue our conversation with Disney Imagineer Nikkolas Smith. In part two of our interview Nikkolas further explains his process for selecting subjects to draw and paint. He also reflects on the civil rights issues of our time, and how his artwork has become a form of activism.[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/3″][vc_single_image image=”65720″ img_size=”large” alignment=”center”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”2/3″][vc_column_text]

I feel compelled to be a ‘reflection of the times,’ like Nina Simone would say…

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ON THE (IN)FAMOUS MLK IN A HOODIE

[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]Black Voice News (Andre Loftis): In reference to the Obamas/Incredibles artwork, you mentioned combining iconic imagery from the past with iconic imagery from the present to create new original works of art.

Nikkolas Smith: That’s the same process I used for the Martin Luther King Jr in a hoodie piece.

BVN: King is the past and Trayvon is the present symbol of the civil rights movement. But more than that, I can imagine Martin Luther King Jr wearing a hoodie, it’s not a stretch. It’s sad how even clothes can be used to justify killing a child.

Tell me about the piece. What was your thought process?[/vc_column_text][vc_raw_html]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[/vc_raw_html][vc_column_text]Nikko: I actually created it back when George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin. The hoodie movement was happening, and my intention was to spotlight all of the young Black men who were being killed. We don’t know if one of these kids was going to be the next MLK or Michael Eric Dyson. I also wanted to say that we can’t judge a book by its cover, but so often we do, I mean, just look at the reaction a lot of Americans had when they saw me put a hoodie on MLK. They almost went crazy when they saw the artwork.

BVN: For the record, I thought it was dope. People often talk about the civil rights leaders of the mid-twentieth century like their struggle was different from the modern movement’s, but if those luminaries were alive today, they would dress like us, they would use the same slang, they would be…

Nikko: They would be marching…with hoodies.

It was one of the simplest pieces I’ve created. I found a picture of a hoodie and used Photoshop to make it look like MLK was wearing it. I posted it when Trayvon Martin was killed, and it sat on the Internet for about a year.

When George Zimmerman was found ‘not guilty’ over a year later I reposted the piece. Then Van Jones posted it on Twitter. Within two hours it was on CNN, and it just exploded from there. It was crazy.[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_column_text]

ON DRAWING & PAINTING POWERFUL WOMEN

[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]BVN: Your portrait of Bree Newsome is powerful, which isn’t surprising because she’s basically a superhero. During the heated debate over the Confederate flag at the South Carolina statehouse, Bree was like ‘forget all of this talking,’ and climbed up the flagpole and pulled it down.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”65725″ img_size=”large”][vc_video link=”https://youtu.be/gr-mt1P94cQ”][vc_column_text]BVN: I’ve noticed that your art often highlights Black women’s accomplishments–are you purposely looking to represent women more than men in your work.

Nikko: No. But sometimes it seems like women are accomplishing more than men. If I look at Beyoncé and Jay-Z for example, I’m more inspired by what Beyoncé is doing right now. Look at the Confederate flag being removed from the South Carolina statehouse, it just happened to be a woman. Women are doing amazing things. If there was a Black guy in men’s tennis who was tearing it up like Serena Williams, I’d probably draw a picture of him.

Misty Copeland, Janelle Monáe. There’re a lot of amazing Black women doing big time stuff.

BVN: Lupita Nyong’o. My Crush 😉

Nikko: I’ve drawn pictures of Prince and Muhammad Ali, but sometimes it seems like Black women are excelling in unconventional ways. And they look good doing it too.[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”65730″ img_size=”500×500″][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”65731″ img_size=”500×500″][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_single_image image=”65732″ img_size=”full”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”65734″ img_size=”full”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”65733″ img_size=”full”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_separator][vc_column_text]

ON CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVISM

[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]BVN: Do you consider yourself an activist?

Nikko: Yep.

BVN: When did you begin consciously presenting your art as activism?

Nikko: Once you take an African Studies course, especially at an HBCU, nothing is ever the same. After graduating from Hampton University, something just changed. When I got out into the real world I became more awake or ‘woke,’ and aware of what was happening around me, and it started getting frustrating. At the same time all of this stuff was happening, Disney was giving me free digital painting classes, my art skills were improving, and I was learning from the best artists in the world.

I feel compelled to be a ‘reflection of the times,’ like Nina Simone would say, so I began creating weekly sketches called Sunday Sketches, which are usually a response to whatever is happening in the world that week. Innocent kids are getting killed in the streets unjustly and nothing is happening. I can’t take my two hours that I’ve devoted to creating art and draw Mickey Mouse every week. I have to say something about it. The killings started happening so much in the news that the Sunday Sketches became a regular thing. Whenever something would happen, people would expect me to create a tribute piece.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”65726″ img_size=”large” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]BVN: Most people don’t understand the process.

Nikko: But it’s motivational. People want to see themselves reflected in the art. I want to show the injustice that’s happening in the United States, but I also want to show people our perspective. People who might not normally look at situations from our perspective. That’s been one of the blessings of growing up in Texas and having a whole bunch of Republican friends. Now that I’m at Walt Disney company I interact with a whole bunch of people who have not been awake to injustices against people of color, but now they’re my coworkers; now they know me; now they’ll see the art I’m posting; and now they’ll most likely see what Black people are experiencing in America, and perhaps pay closer attention.

Most of the drawings I create are attention-grabbing. I need them to immediately draw you in so you’ll stop and look at them online. People are beginning to take notice.

BVN: You say ‘Republican friends,’ I’ll say your White friends. They probably haven’t had to pay attention to certain things. They probably haven’t had a conversation with their parents about how to engage with the police to keep themselves alive. I’m thinking back to my Race & Racism course in college. A lot of White kids walked out of class saying ‘I didn’t do anything, I didn’t own slaves.’ As if that coincidence of history absolves them of the responsibility to fight against racism. It’s sad, but a lot of people miss the point of these courses and conversations. We are supposed to learn lessons from the past and apply them to our lives today so we don’t make the same mistakes as our ancestors. It seems like you’re carrying on that tradition through your artwork. Through your work, you’re showing that Black people are…human: we’re cool, we can show emotions, we can be sad, triumphant, everything.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”65727″ img_size=”large”][vc_column_text]BVN: Do you ever see yourself leaving Disney and working full time to develop your own content?

Nikko: It’s possible, but I like the fact that they are very supportive of all of my artistic personal endeavors outside of work. I’m able to develop my own stories right now, so I’m juggling both at the moment.

BVN: Thank you for agreeing to this interview Nikkolas.

Nikko: Thanks for this man. I appreciate it.[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_column_text]Previous article: California Creatives: Nikkolas Smith Part 1/2[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_column_text el_class=”small”]All artwork © Nikkolas Smith[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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