"There are a lot of black kids who live their parents’ dreams ... it's okay to be a rebel."


Tell us about your background

GC: My name is Gabriel Choto, I’m 23, born in Harare, Zimbabwe. I moved to England when I was 5 years old. I moved around a lot; started up in London for the first 3 years, then moved to Middlesborough, Leeds, Bradford, Liverpool, then Leeds again and now London. Leeds College of Art was the Art Institution I went to for my Extended Diploma and then Camberwell College of Arts in 2014. Now I’m currently doing my Masters in Fine Art at Central Saint Martins.


What drew you to pursuing an art degree?

GC: Well I was drawn to art as a whole, I think, while growing up in my teenage years. I suffered from depression a lot so art was the escape where I could actually talk about my feelings, not through my mouth but on canvas.

What was your parents’ reaction to you doing an art degree?

GC: My parents’ reaction was not good. I had family members coming all the way from London to Leeds just to talk me out it. It took till my degree show when they came over during my undergrad and saw my work, that’s when they noticed that their son doesn’t play around. I’ve been showing them screenshots of galleries contacting me, people wanting to buy my artwork and when they notice their son’s art work is selling for over a grand, that he is actually making money, they are very supportive.


Do you think there is a stigma around pursuing an art degree in the Afro-Caribbean society?

GC: Yes. I can only speak from my perspective growing up from a Zimbabwean home. I think it’s because during colonial era there weren’t that many jobs for black people, so my grandparents, my parents, had to struggle to get a good decent amount of earnings, and so when it comes to these good decent earnings it only came from being a lawyer, doctor or engineer. You had to achieve in those academic areas, so when somebody says they want to do something in the creative arts there it is thought that you are not going to make that much money so why are you doing that? There is a standard bar especially in my family where there those 3 main jobs – lawyer, doctor, engineer – are the ones you should actively aim for. I think it’s also because Afro-Caribbean people don’t necessarily know their own worth in terms of in terms of the value of Afro-Caribbean art. Black art in general, is worth a lot. It’s hard to make, it’s very complex, and the history behind it is rich, but we are not educated on that, to a point that we are more drawn to academic studies. Let’s say for example Basquiat or these other black artists, there aren’t that many big ones but they are very big in terms of what they talk about. It’s quite sad actually because there is that feeling that for people like us, a lot of exhibitions with these black artists aren’t seen as accessible because they are now seen as elite areas in galleries away from the ‘hood’ so in a way that draws you away from art.

Do you have any fears it won’t be viable financially?

GC: Not really. I think being an artist, even a struggling artist, we tend to have jobs that are kind of irrelevant to our own practice but they are ones that you earn enough money from you can buy paint brushes and paints and do whatever you want. So, in a way even though art for me is my main job it’s also a hobby at the same time, so I have to feed it in a way for it in the long term to feed me. Having been in university getting my BA and now doing my MA, if I keep progressing I know that from the effort I’ve put in the money will come.


Which of your pieces are you most proud of?

GC: It’s really hard to say because I’m always creating something new. But, if I was to choose a piece I’d probably say the print of my Granddad. That’s probably one that got me attention from all the galleries. It’s one that is beloved by a lot of people. People actually want to buy it. An Olympian, a Nigerian sprinter, I can’t remember her name, she contacted me wanting to buy the print. It’s the one that I’m most proud of. I got a lot of praise for that one.

What would you say to someone who is considering pursuing an art degree but is afraid?

GC: I think you should do what you feel is best, what you feel is right for you go. There are a lot of black kids who live their parents’ dreams, so if your parents say go be a doctor but you don’t want to be a doctor, it’s not what you feel is right for you, you want to do something else, it’s okay to be a rebel, do what you feel is best. If you feel that university is the one for you and you want to do Fine Art, go for it, see how it goes, life is all about experimenting, if it fails you learn from it. There are a lot of people are concerned about whether or not they’ll make money from it. It’s not necessarily about selling a painting and becoming rich. Go for it. Think of a plan, how you can differentiate yourself from others. To be honest the art world is a market itself, you just have to come into that market different.


Here are some of Gabriel’s pieces:


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