From my first professional exhibition as a naïve 19-year-old, believing that I would sell a dozen works at my debut show; I started to set myself goals to achieve by certain milestones in my life in order to achieve my ambitions of becoming a fulltime artist.
I’m grateful that the three targets I had aimed to achieve by the age of 25 came to fruition in 2019; to be an artist in residence overseas, win a best in show award and to exhibit at The Mall Galleries.
In the summer of last year, I was one the three ‘Space and Time Artists in Residence’ at Guttenberg Arts in New Jersey, USA. 15 weeks in the US with 24/7 access to a studio space enabled me to make the most ambitious works of my career to date. I worked tirelessly during this time and relished the opportunity to make hyper detailed socio-politically relevant portraits that I had planned for years.
As a young boy visiting the Mall Galleries on school trips and frequenting exhibitions there since; I dreamed of my own artwork being on those prestigious walls someday (as cliché as that may sound).
Over the course of 2 years I applied for 7 open calls to exhibit my artwork at The Mall Galleries, each application was unsuccessful and I only made it past the first round of selection on 2 occasions. However, in October 2019 I was selected as a finalist of The Discerning Eye Drawing Bursary 2019, which would be on display at The Mall Galleries the following month. Although I did not win the bursary, I was a runner up and sold one of my 6 works on show, Newham General, before the exhibition had even opened to the public.
In December 2019, I was notified that my artwork, ‘Can I Touch Your Hair’ had been chosen as the ‘Best in Show’ from over 16,000 entries for The Embracing Our Differences Exhibition 2020 in Sarasota, Florida. I am fortunate enough to have won two other awards up until this point but they were in categories for students and under 30’s. My work being selected for a prize being held by an organisation whose core ethos of inclusion resonates so deeply with me felt almost like the vindication I had been searching for.
Although I believe that it is important to set clear micro goals which contribute to achieving long term macro goals; it is equally imperative not to place too much credence in validation from others, be that other artists or indeed galleries. Ticking off certain goals to get you to where you want to be to progress in your career is fulfilling but it can’t be everything. I have learnt first-hand that putting ‘everything’ into my art can lead to physical and emotional burnout, so I now place more emphasis on simply making work that I enjoy and trying to make a living from that whilst maintaining my integrity (big up JME).