At just twenty-four years old, Shaqúelle Whyte is already one to watch. The London-based painter has exhibited in prestigious galleries, been granted awards and residencies, and is currently exhibiting solo at Pippy Houldsworth gallery. In his show, titled Yute, you’re gonna be fine, he approaches storytelling from various angles and perspectives, as seen in diptych paintings like Kevin, you’re next. “The display of the two different point of views, for me, depicts the polarising images that reflect that time. It also coincides with my love of theatre, non-linear storytelling and Japanese printmaking as inspiration for the work,” he explains us in the interview. While the show is on view through May 25, we sit down with Shaqúelle to discuss the pressure of being an emerging artist, life in London, the subconscious, and spirituality.
It's inferred, 2024
Hi Shaqúelle, it’s a pleasure to speak with you. First of all, how are you feeling today and where do you answer us from?
Honestly, I’m feeling okay; chilling since the opening and back in the studio, so I can’t complain. I’m answering your questions from my flat right now in North London.
You grew up in Wolverhampton, close to Birmingham. How would you say that surrounding influenced the person and artist you are today?
Wolverhampton (Wolves) has always felt safe. Whilst not everyone understood what it was that I was trying to go after, they supported me, nevertheless. Being from Wolverhampton has influenced my outlook on the art world as a whole. No matter how much the work takes on a life of its own, I am, and always will be, a kid from Wolves. It comes with a collective identity that doesn’t leave you once you move; that’s what makes me feel safe. To know that you belong to something steadfast and constant.
As almost anyone looking to work in the creative fields, you moved to London. The city’s artistic scene is unparalleled, continuously blooming with new talent, things to do, places to go, people to meet. What was your first impression of moving there like, and how have you navigated so far living in such an expensive but thrilling place?
My first impressions were that the place was nuts. Nothing ever seemed to be closed and there is some kind of event or social gathering happening at any moment. To begin with, it was about trying to take it all in as much as I could. I went to all the openings, social gatherings. If it was happening, I’d try to be there. But after a while you get tired – being in London wasn’t a school trip. This was my life now. As such, I try to be more particular about how I engage with the city, still having fun and creating new experiences, but also finding time for myself to do the things I’ve always done. An increase in living costs will also help keep you inside more!
You’re currently having your first solo show at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, titled Yute, you’re gonna be fine. I’m curious, who’s Yute?
Yute is me talking to myself about myself. The word is patois for ‘youth’. The multiplicity of the word worked twofold for me. The intonation of ‘Yute, you’re gonna be fine’ for me reflected the nuances the show explores through the works. The intonation dictates the way we perceive the phrase and best reflects what the works are doing. None of them solely depict one emotion, one way of being. Individually, and as a whole, the works offer what ends up as a cacophony of different ideas and emotional instances, all held by my language in paint that I’ve cultivated and am forever trying to expand upon.
Ivory tower, 2024
The title conveys a sense of hope for the future. Would you say you’re an optimistic person?
Is optimistic too strong of a word? Maybe I’m being too English about the question! I’m definitely not a nihilist. I do feel the title conveys a sense optimism and hope; however, I try not to be naïve as that comes with more short-comings than if I were to be patient, taking things how they are and as they come. Maybe that’s just me, and as I said, maybe I’m being too English. The weather here can do that to a person.
In Kevin, you’re next, you depict a street fight from two different POVs. I love the idea of showing different perspectives of a same event as we all remember things differently. How did this painting come to be?
It came about whilst considering my time at my secondary school. As an institution, the school I went to is massively innovative and pushed their students to be great. That being said, I believed that during my time there, that management was poor and didn’t allow for a diversity of expression to be displayed. I wouldn’t have been able to have honed the discipline that I have in the studio without that place, but I also had to let go of different ways of thinking when I entered university because of my time there. That’s to say that the display of the two different point of views, for me, depicts the polarising images that reflect that time. It also coincides with my love of theatre, non-linear storytelling and Japanese printmaking as inspiration for the work.
The painting Still has a very poetic aspect; it almost seems religious to me. Could you give us more insight into it?
That painting sort of just happened. After I finished my Masters, I found myself burnt out. I’d gone straight from my undergraduate to my Masters with no break in-between. I found myself overwhelmed. I cycled through about three different paintings that got torn off their frames before I got to this piece. I suppose you could say it was the best of what turned out to be a summer of failure. It wasn’t romantic and I feel a little detached from that piece, not because I don’t enjoy it, but because I was trying to still the current of mess that was going through my head. I’m not a religious person but I grew up in the church. Maybe that’s why that iconography prevailed in that work and is so prevalent when holding the work together.
As I understand, the subconscious plays a paramount role in your practice. When did the interest for the psychological and psychoanalytical spark? And how has it evolved with time?
My interest for the psychological and the psychoanalytic has always been therem but in order for it to be properly presented I’ve had to work on my ability to paint. There’s an innateness to those topics for me that you can feel while you paint, you’re trying to imbue the work with this feeling. Being able to display that in the nuances of paint and not hide behind theory is a forever working process I don’t think I’ll ever be finished with.
Knowing oneself profoundly is very important to us as humans; trying to understand our traumas, upbringing, what fuels and triggers us, what helps us become better persons and advance through life. But in an age where it seems like most people have lost that introspective interest, where social media, immediacy, and shallowness seem to pervade every aspect of our lives, what can we do to find that spiritual interest again?
I suppose that this looks different for different people. For me it was getting back to reading regularly. Growing up, I always had my nose in a book and then at some point around sixteen it started to slow down. Finding that love really helped me centre myself more within my everyday life. But I don’t think that there is one thing that any one person can do. I think to be honest with yourself is maybe a first step, but after that, it’s more so on the person searching for more. The endeavour shouldn't be performative and it shouldn't allow for the perception of being above others. Apart from that, the view of what might be spiritual is infinite.
At such a young age, you’ve already exhibited in prestigious galleries like Hauser & Wirth or Saatchi, and have been granted different awards and residencies. Do you feel any pressure from yourself or others (family, gallerists, other artists, etc.) to meet high expectations?
Yes and no. Family and friends tend not to put pressure on me and what I do. They’re just happy that I get to do what I love. Pippy Houldsworth Gallery have been nothing but supportive, and their guiding hand has allowed me the space to paint straight out of university, protecting me from the art world, which is the real scary place. It’s a desert plain full of vultures at times – collectors and gallerists alike. There are the precious few that have your best interest at heart and they are often the ones that pile on the pressure. I think it comes from a perceived notion of success. 
I'm just getting started, I’m trying to lay down the foundations of my art practice to be able to do this for my whole career. But I also struggle with expectations set by myself. You always mean to get better, but it happens incrementally. Sometimes it feels as if you’re making leaps with your work, other times you question your progression. I’m slowly beginning to accept that’s what it means to have an art practice, constantly questioning and re-examining the decisions that you make in the studio. The most important thing is that, in the face of internal critique, you still do it anyway. I suppose it’s about having a go and bolstering the process of making with a history of making that you’ve built, a history of making that predates the individual as an artist. When you make work, you belong within a cannon of art making. This makes me feel better about the potential pressures that I lay on myself.
Kevin, you're next, 2024
Rabbit heart, 2024
We don't bite, 2024
All images courtesy of the artist and Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London © Shaqúelle Whyte