Nikkolas Smith, a native of Houston, Texas, is a Master of Architecture recipient from Hampton University. After designing theme parks at Walt Disney Imagineering for eleven years, he is now a Concept artist, Children’s Books Author and Film Illustrator. The latest children’s book he has illustrated, World Cup Women features the World Champion USWNT. He also creates activist art paintings and Hollywood movie posters.
Nikkolas is focused on creating captivating art that can spark important conversations in today’s world and inspire meaningful change. We got in touch with him to talk about immigration, inspiration and the steps that took him to where he is today.
Toby Buckley: What does your work aim to say? If you were to sum your key message up in a paragraph/sentence, what would that be?
Nikkolas Smith: I want the world to be able to use my art as a tool to grieve, reflect, hope, and fight for justice. My art often gives a voice to voiceless Black, Brown or otherwise marginalized lives, with the purpose of reminding the world that we [exist].
TB: Who inspires your work, and which other contemporary artists are you particularly enjoying right now?
NS: The countless people in the world fighting for justice inspire my work daily. In terms of artist inspiration, I really love seeing Kadir Nelson and Kehinde Wiley’s art right now!
TB: How do you feel about the #ImmigrantsAreEssential project? How was your experience of working on it?
NS: This project is so necessary, although I wish it was a concept that everyone in America truly understood as a basic fact. So many immigrants in this country hold vital positions of service and care, and are often treated as an unwanted threat. I really enjoyed having the opportunity to create a tribute for Jesus Contreras. I’m honored that my art could help advance the message of Immigrant rights.
TB: How have you found balancing creative work, activism and mental/emotional health during this traumatic period?
NS: This moment has been the wildest roller coaster of my life. The pain and anger of Black lives being destroyed, combined with the proud moments of my tribute art going viral and being shared by leaders such as Michelle Obama, connected to the uncertainty of the global pandemic, all on top of the unparalleled joy of expecting a baby boy in August. It has been a year I will never forget, to say the least.
TB: You have a Master’s degree in architecture and spent 11 years designing theme parks. How much do you think this background informs your creative practice today?
NS: Studying architecture at Hampton University and working in the theme park design field gave me a unique perspective. Every design challenge that I faced helped me to understand the importance of attention to detail, layered critical thinking, and visual storytelling. These are life lessons that have made my creative art explorations even more complex.
TB: A lot of your current work is activist art responding to ongoing police violence against Black people in America. Do you think it is the responsibility of art to comment on these injustices?
NS: The driving force behind my weekly “Sunday Sketch” art series is Nina Simone’s quote that says ‘It is an artist’s duty to reflect the times’. So I hold up a mirror to the world and create art every Sunday through that lens. I feel that Nina knew that for artists especially, if we take our unique perspective and creative talent, and spend time holding up a mirror to our society and making bold statements about it, that would change the world.
TB: Many artists are struggling to stay afloat in the current climate. What can readers do to support you and your practice at this time?
NS: Feel free to check out my online art store at www.NIKKOLAS.art! Many of my Sunday Sketch art pieces are available there.
TB: Outside of the massive institutional changes that need to happen, how would you like to see individuals (especially white individuals) support BAME people?
NS: I think one of the best ways to support is to use whatever privilege and platform you may have to shout out to your friends, family, and anyone in your circle and convince them to join you in dismantling the racist systems in place that destroy minority families, and have done so for centuries.