"You do you and you do it to the best of your ability. … The moment you get scared is the moment you start to lose yourself."


Tell us about your background?

Ishmael Lartey: I am half Ghanaian and Jamaican. My mum is Jamaican and my dad is Ghanaian. I’ve been in London all my life, born and raised in Brixton. I’m currently studying BA Fine Art at Central Saint Martins.


What drew you to pursue an art degree?

IL: My Art teacher at my secondary school was a big factor. The teachers didn’t really give us the time of day; they didn’t really pay any attention to black people. My art teacher saw potential in me and he pushed me to attend different art workshops outside of school, so I actually felt like I was active. I decided to try and find a career out of it, so I did research and I pushed forward in that direction.


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

IL: It’s crazy because even till now they don’t really get the magnitude of Central Saint Martins. The first reaction to it was ‘okay as long as you try your best’, but, I knew that it wasn’t what they wanted for me, so that pushed me to work harder and show them there is something in it. They wanted me to be a lawyer or a doctor.


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

 IL: Yes. It’s because the art scene altogether is low-key to the average joe, I was a part of that as well, me just been a normal kid walking in to a gallery, the only thing I would see was a painting, I wouldn’t necessarily know about the thought process and the methodology behind creating the painting, getting that it there and getting it sold. I realised in secondary school that there’s more to it. I feel like it’s something that they don’t notice. They don’t understand the background and how much effort it takes to be an artist.


Do you worry it won’t be financially viable?

 IL: No, I don’t worry because art allows me to have more than one hustle, thanks to freelancing, you could to videography and on the side, be selling your prints, whilst exhibiting your paintings. You can also work for companies and organisations.


Which of your pieces are you most proud of?

 IL: That’s tough. It’s funny because all of my pieces set a milestone for me, cause I’m a black boy from Brixton, they aren’t expecting me to exhibit in X, Y & Z. I think a proud moment for me was when I was on Tate Exchange, they sent a group of us to Rotterdam to collaborate with a gallery there and we exhibited a work there and at the Tate. Being a part of the process was amazing. Being able to exhibit in a different country as well is something that I’m very proud of. It was sculpted piece, I collaborated with an architecture student. We produced a shoulder height sculpture, that everyone was interested in. It was based on the illusion of stability, so people were scared to go close to this, but if you shook it, it wouldn’t move.


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

 IL: Do you. It’s as simple as that. You do you and you do it to the best of your ability. At the end of the day, the moment you get scared is the moment you start to lose yourself, especially when you start looking for feedback so you can change yourself. Continue with your craft and the right people will be drawn to you.

Here are some of Ishmael’s pieces:

  • Pat Palmer
    Posted at 15:31h, 14 March Reply

    We are all very proud of you Ishmael…. you will go far… keep your focus!

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