With more than 4,400 works of art on board the new Disney Wish cruise ship, one would think it would be difficult to identify the most stunning piece. For those who wandered up and down the stairs of the ship, which set sail for its christening cruise last week, however, a piece titled “Cindys” caught the eye.
The print of what was originally a digital artwork by Nicholas Smith, 37, of Los Angeles, looks like an oil painting and shows 10 versions of the famous Disney princess helping each other climb out of the depths of darkness over a cliff with a glittering castle behind.
“I just wanted to create something that was aspirational but also representative of all women and the power that women have,” he said.
The Houston native signs his art simply as “Nikkolas” and has been a full-time artist after spending more than a decade working as an architect for Disney Imagineering.
“It’s like any woman rising up after being knocked down because it’s just like that Cinderella story – just being at the bottom, like being pushed to the lowest point and then being able to rise up – yeah you rise from the ashes And so I wanted to create that kind of darkness, that cave atmosphere, and all these women helping each other.”
It’s a brutal take on the traditional Disney look with the sizes, nationalities and skin colors of these 10 versions of Cinderella evident in their break from the traditional mode.
“I wanted to show all these different variations of that kind of traditional Cinderella that we know – to show that every woman has a Cinderella, to show that character, but every possible way you can imagine from every part of the world and every culture” , he said.
He was delighted to hear that the crowd’s reaction to the piece had been so positive, as friends told him after the ship set sail with passengers for the first time last Wednesday, and he posted about it on social media with commenters noting how excited they were of a piece.
“I just wanted to say that the power of women is unmatched, and maybe that’s why there’s always such an intense effort to take away a woman’s power, but I don’t think that’s going to work,” he said. “There’s something about a woman’s strength and will that always rises.”
He noted that although he created the piece in the past, its relevance to recent events is as important as ever.
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“With everything that’s going on with women’s rights, it’s kind of perfect to have an opportunity to talk about it now,” he said. “The parallels are there to say we need to talk about women’s rights. We need to talk about the power that women have.
People have reached out to get a print of the work, but he hasn’t discussed that with Disney yet, he said. His other art is available at www.nikkolas.art.
He had gained fame with a previous piece he produced for Disney titled “King Chad,” which featured a toddler undergoing cancer treatment wearing a T’Challa Black Panther mask and crossing his arms in greeting to actor Chadwick Boseman. This was on display at Downtown Disney in California, but is now on permanent display at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
As an Imagineer, he worked on the Avengers Campus at Disney’s California Adventure Park for many years, among other projects. While attending Hampton University, a historically Black College and University (HBCU) in Hampton, Virginia, he was able to enter the Imagine Design Competition started by Imagineer Marty Sklar, leading to an internship and eventually a job as an architect from 2008-2019. .
“I was doing art nights on the weekends too and I was doing what I call my Sunday sketch series – it’s a piece of art every Sunday, it was just like making art when I was an architect and I realized at some point along the way that I had to be doing art full time,” he said.
Now that he’s left Disney, he continues to work with them, including a new project with Imagineering and a Marvel children’s book.
“I’m doing a lot of Disney stuff now … It’s a great relationship,” he said. “There are all these moments where it’s kind of a full-circle moment that goes back to my time at Disney.”