For London based figurative painter Shaqúelle Whyte, art is a deep-felt expression as he explores the human condition. Inspired by literature and the theory of artists such as Rothko, Salgado, Monet, Twombly and Yiadom-Boakye, to name a few. He utilises painting as a voice to feel heard as he critiques his emotions surrounding relationships and destiny.
Secluding himself from his observations, he employs characters to mourn these emotional disturbances in intimate panoramas. Vibrant amalgamations of spray paint, oil and pastels nourish Whyte’s refined interpretations providing an uncensored insight into his vulnerabilities. That induces the viewer to unwrap his narratives.
Ideas often come from me writing; the process is, more about the act of doing then it is about what I’ve written down. Here I can flesh out new ideas, consider themes and motifs
While in his third year of a four-year course at the Slade school of fine art, his alluring technique has garnered the interest of the art consultant with the golden touch Nick Campbell.
As Whyte continues to experiment and develop his distinctive style, he is an artist to focus on as he navigates his way through the ranks of the British contemporary art scene. In this interview, we learn more about his inspirations, creative process and more.
Q: For those who don’t know you, can you please introduce yourself
A: My name is Shaqúelle Whyte, I’m 20 years old, and I’m originally from Wolverhampton; however, I now reside in London. I’m a figurative painter in my third year of a four-year course, studying for a BA honours at the Slade school of fine art.
Q: What is your inspiration, and why do you do what you do?
A: Some figures that have proved instrumental within my work have been Kara Walker, Mark Rothko, Andrew Salgado, Paula Rego, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Kudzani- Violet Hwami, Jenny Saville, Peter Doig.
I suppose that the real question is who doesn’t inspire me. I try to go to a lot of shows (when we could) that display various artists. I truly believe that you can’t make art in an echo chamber of your own understanding, so I try to push my own understanding of art. When I consider why I do what I do, I suppose there is no definitive answer. I find that doing work allows freedom as it is removed from those others around me and, at its core, is work made for me. The canvas is a place where I can get answers but more importantly ask questions, a lot of the time that I don’t necessarily want an answer from.
Q: Can you tell us about your creative process?
A: Ideas often come from me writing; the process is more about the act of doing than it is about what I’ve written down. Here I can flesh out new ideas, consider themes and motifs that I am already working with and go into the next phase of making propitiatory drawings. These help me think about composition and character.
It helps support the search for found imagery and collate my references to use. At this point, I get to laying down marks and colour onto the canvas to begin painting. When doing this, I often refer to previous works, what did I do well and what wasn’t so successful. However, it is imperative to consider what the painting needs, what does it dictate within that moment. Conscious and unconscious thought. They both have to work simultaneously when I work.
Q: Your work has a current theme surrounding perceptions and emotions. Can you tell us the motivation behind this?
A: The motivation for doing the work is to give myself space where I can speak and feel heard, even if it is just by myself. I can be insecure. I worry about the future and what place I have in it. Keeping up relationships, platonic and romantic, is something I find hard and hurts when they go array. Painting allows me to lament on these things in a way that is close to me but also removed from myself due to the fact that I use people like characters within my paintings; they reflect me, but you don’t see myself depicted within the works. More than anything else, the motivation is to keep me in check while simultaneously pushing the way that I can explore these feelings, ideas and concepts within a physical plane rather than just in my head.
Q: What was the first piece of Art you created that cemented your path as an artist?
A: I don’t necessarily have a first piece of work that cemented me on the path to be an artist, but there was a change within my work during school that made me question what it was that I wanted to paint/draw etc. It was an understanding of what art could do for oneself and within a broader context, and this understanding only came by looking at a plethora of other artists. You cannot exist within your echo chamber, and it was from reaching out of my own that I realized how individual artist are and the power that comes with it.
Q: What is your favourite piece from your body of work, and why?
A: My work exists with a cannon, and each one says different things or approaches the same idea in two different ways. So, I wouldn’t know that I have a favourite painting however, I do enjoy watching as my work grows over time and is contextualised within the body of work as the amount of work increases.
Q: In your opinion, what is the lasting impact of Art?
A: Within the broadest sense, the arts define culture, place and moments in time while transcending many barriers that we use to remove ourselves from one another. Being creative is a privilege that I believe that everyone should have access to it; we shouldn’t feel afraid to engage with art. When we consider art forms from the past and present, we open our minds to the potentials of new art that we couldn’t have previously considered. Thereby the lasting effect of art is the enablement of future work that considers self, material, past, present and future and how it will exist beyond our current understanding.
Q: What do you think about the current state of the art world?
A: I think that through the pandemic that there has been more access for younger and younger artist from a wider array of backgrounds, like myself, to make headway with art spaces that previously would not have necessarily taken note of. Access to opportunity is more open, and even when it isn’t, the artist isn’t necessarily waiting to be told ‘yes’ by the institution.
This for allows for more and more artist to feed from the fruits of the art world rather than just a select few. However, it doesn’t mean that everything is positive, and it is important to consider my place within the art world. As an emerging artist, there are so many places that I would like to break into but haven’t had access to yet. Commenting on the art world as a whole would be to assume that I am in all of these places, and I am not yet. However, I hope to be, and at that point, I hope to have a clearer understanding.
Q: What role does the artist have in society?
A: The role that the artist plays should only ever be defined by the artist. It is not up to others to define your role within society; however, more often than not, this is something that happens. Moreover, society is such an umbrella term that, when used within this context, is too broad a concept to have an artist feel obliged to work for. I think that it is more important to define an artist role within their community. You can choose who is a part of your community, and as such, while the community flourish, so does the artist.
Q: Lastly, what does Art mean to you?
A: Art is a means of expression and provides a way for me to push my belief systems. It allows me to consistently step out of my comfort zone, push myself and the content of my work. It also provides the freedom that I strive for, and for that, I am grateful and excited to see what happens next.