If you noticed Atlanta Season 3’s stunning artwork, Alim Smith is the man behind it. The Delaware artist re-envisioned the show’s main characters as abstract-inspired paintings. In the paintings, he accurately captured Darius (LaKeith Stanfield) as pensive and hard to read, Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) as grouchy and standoffish, Van’s (Zazie Beetz) aloofness, and Earn’s (Donald Glover) skepticism. Smith’s art is now featured on the show’s posters, which are displayed all over the country on billboards, bus stops, and subway stations. The interdisciplinary artist’s work is heavily inspired by Black culture. His painting of the iconic The Wire Wee-Bey GIF caught the attention of someone in the FX promo department, who reached out to Smith ahead of the series’ highly-anticipated return.
“He said he found it on Twitter. He said he found a Wee-Bey meme and he just felt like he had to reach out to me, which was crazy,” Smith tells Complex. Smith says the collaboration with FX didn’t feel real until Atlanta’s creator Donald Glover talked about him on Jimmy Kimmel Live! That’s when he felt he’d really made it. “I thought, these are so cool. They’re beautiful,” Glover said about the posters. “I love his work. I like the fact that these are around town and you can see them and it feels like art.”
Smith attended Cab Calloway School of the Arts in Wilmington, DE, where he learned to be competitive in order to be recognized. When he realized memes were getting him the most traction online, he started producing afro-surrealism art focusing on prominent pop culture figures and iconic memes. For its Black History Month event In Living Color, Instagram recently asked him to produce 25 oil on canvas paintings depicting the most viral and recognizable Black memes, like the Will Smith “pain” meme, the crying Michael Jordan meme, and the Viola Davis grabbing her purse and leaving meme. “To see people, celebrities and people who aren’t celebrities, acknowledging me as an artist, makes me feel like I’ve arrived,” Smith tells Complex, who previously did illustrations for our 2018 Best Rappers in Their 20s list. We caught up with Smith and learned how he went from Instagram meme creator to becoming the lead artist on FX’s Atlanta.