SPRING, Texas - A Houston artist is back in the national spotlight for his touching and viral tribute to the late actor Chadwick Boseman.
Nikkolas Smith grew up in Spring, always adding a touch of fantasy to his work.
“I was working for Disney for 11 years designing theme parks,” explains Smith.
After putting more time in his personal art, it started taking off, so he made the shift from Imagineering to imagining a better world through his role in modern “artivism”, which is meant to inspire people to action.
“I feel like I have an obligation to really sometimes show what is broken in this world, and then with artivism, you have the opportunity to say, you can add your name to this petition, you can contact your district attorney, you can vote. There are so many things that you can do.”
The weekend Trayvon Martin’s killer was set free, Smith depicted Martin Luther King, Jr. in a hoodie.
“It just kind of took off and Van Jones shared it, and then I ended up being asked to go on CNN talk about the whole point of it, you know, Dr. King's dream of not wanting anybody to be judged for their outward appearance.”
Growing up in the Houston area, the killing of George Floyd also hit him personally.
“I actually couldn't even finish the whole video. Like, I still haven't seen the whole thing,” Smith confesses.
“It was just, I felt like it touched people and on such a level that obviously, you know, we're still seeing protests, we're still seeing an uprising many months later. That's why for the portrait that I created for him, I wanted it to be a celebration of life in a way- to say, this is a life that was lived, this life should still be here.”
In a shoutout to younger generations, Smith did a sketch of Simone Biles, whose older brothers attended school with him.
“Then people kept saying, ‘well, Simone Manuel also won a gold medal. She's from Houston too’- and so then I did one with both of them together.”
That sketch quickly developed into 11 female gold medal winners, then Smith was contacted by Barnes and Noble to turn his sketches into a children’s book “The Golden Girls of Rio” in about three weeks. He now has two other books including “My Hair Is Poofy, and That’s Okay.”
“Kids react to it, especially when they have hair that's poofy like the little girl in the book,” he says.
His latest work was unveiled at the end of September in Downtown Disney, California.
He created a piece dedicated to Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman, and Disney reached out to make it a larger than life mural.
It depicts a little boy wearing a hospital gown while sharing a Wakanda salute with Boseman.
Boseman died after a four-year battle with colon cancer which he largely kept under wraps.
Smith says that the little boy in the painting is a representation of all the kids that look up to Boseman as a role model, especially as they fight their own battles against disease.
Smith was able to meet Boseman on the set of Black Panther after being hired to create a movie poster.
“That was a great moment, just to see his heart for people. That was the embodiment of what I wanted to put in the art and also Chadwick’s vision of always thinking to future generations- always looking at who's coming up behind him, who he can inspire.”
Smith plans to continue speaking up through every brushstroke, hoping to inspire a world better than the one he knows.
“Paint the world that you want to see or make the world in whatever creative avenue that you have and help inspire people to make positive change,” he says.
For more information on Smith's work, visit https://www.nikkolas.art/.