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Gabrielle Oke + Love of Urban Design

Gabee Paints

ABOUT Gabee Paints

As a 1st generation immigrant from a Nigerian household, I had hoped that after a BA(Philosophy), an advertising career would be a financially sustainable way of addressing my desire to investigate the human experience in a creative way. However, a year in I found myself still longing to create work that is immediately human, dealing with our wants, needs, hopes and our innate desire to understand the world and ourselves better. After a year of saving, I decided to do an MA in Acting and pursue the arts simultaneously and independently.

After graduating in October 2019, I began sharing my visual artistry influenced by my scrimmage with placement and Identity. Work that depicts the dichotomy between belonging and displacement, between who we are, what the world sees and what we want them to see. Most importantly, work that depicts people that look like me, black figures in the foreground as the main object of attention. This has been the premise of my practise this first year post graduation. Through portraits & figurative paintings, I hope to create work that includes, honours and preserves the power, beauty and identity of members within our diverse community.

Who inspires you in your area of expertise?

I’m following the journeys of some amazing artists that inspire me in various ways. Ways that don’t always translate visually in my work. For example, Nneka Jones (@ArtYouHungry) creates these insane hand sewn portraits whilst @ButlerArchive has taught me that your artistry need not be confined to 1 medium. From stylistic portraiture, designing furniture and interiors, he really does it all. Kehindle Wiley (@kehindewiley) and Nigerian artist Jimoh Buraimoh’s work have a similar effect on me with the scale and detail of their work. These artists remind me of the importance of storytelling through art. Their work is not just nice to look at, there’s a message, a question, levels of depth that make you want to pick the mind of the artist.

But my all time favourite right now is Actor & Artist Joseph Lee. I’ve been following him for years and its an amazing journey to witness. He’s constantly exploring and playing which I think is an important trait as an artist. A trait that I would like to embrace further because its not about getting it right but getting it true. As someone who thinks the details in a face say so much and that eyes are like “a window to the soul” seeing a portrait with no eyes or in Picasso’s case, an eye where a mouth should be and still feeling something is like “WOW” - we’re so much more than faces and bodies… I feel like capturing the essence of a person in paint like this is what makes work timeless and therefore the ultimate goal for me.

What are significant obstacles in your industry as an urban creative? How have you been able to push through these obstacles in your industry?

Access and visibility in the "Art World". I can't afford anymore further education if I'm totally honest and typically the majority of people who can, don't look like me. With a BA or MA in Fine arts, I would have had a number of showcases and access to the who's who in the London art scene and especially in this industry, your network is your net-worth. Without this, it can seem and sometimes feel really difficult to be found or seen by galleries and the right people. It also means not having a "circle" to go to for advice or guidance. That being said, I've seen and met some amazing artists on my journey thus far who never went to art school so it's clearly not impossible.

The resources and the right helpers are out there typically a DM on Instagram/Twitter away. Yes there's a lot of aired messages but there's also a lot of likeminded individuals who have come before me, understand the struggles I'm up against and have wisdom they are more than happy to offer. The squeaky door gets the oil is what I'm learning.

Share a great moment or accomplishment in your career?

I think I'm still in my great moment. Surviving artistically through Covid is honestly one of my biggest accomplishments. I've really seen and felt the power of the internet in this period. During this pandemic, I've created and sold more work than I imagined, been featured in some great publications like Buzzfeed and even got a cheeky mention in Vogue!

But my greatest accomplishment was starting. It was the moment I permitted myself to do this and said, "Yes. I'm going to commit my life to creating."

What advice would you give to an aspiring creative who wants to thrive in your industry?

Begin and then keep going when the followers aren't there, when the retweets are low and when people unfollow you! What's a couple unfollows when you're sharing your truth and craft with the world? I think we want to know if it'll work out in the end, if it would have been worth the sacrifice but we can't know if we don't keep going. Start small and go. Give a little time each week, each day if possible to the craft you love. Then silence the inner perfectionist who doesn't want to put something out in the world that isn't the best and instead lovingly tell yourself that something is better than nothing. I think fewer people are watching and judging than we think in our heads so go for it.

Lastly, I'd also reinforce the idea that there is no such thing as too late, too old. Regret is such a heavy and unnecessary load to be carrying in this life. "You're doing great, sweetie."


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