'Contributions' by Shane D’Allessandro

Artist Shane D’Allessandro on his latest work, the Black Lives Matter movement and his fascination with Salvador Dali 

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I wanted to create something which clearly communicated the value of black people to British society, with a focus on the Caribbean community, as my paternal grandparents were of the Windrush Generation. I wasn’t sure what I should paint; I didn’t think a portrait would be appropriate, as I felt that the matter is bigger than any one person. After a conversation with my brother about the idea of incorporating the union jack, and perhaps reimagining it, I started sketching the concept in pencil. Two hours later, I’d completed an A5 sketch. The process of sketching and drafting the actual sketch onto the canvas was quite tricky and cumbersome, but once I started getting the paint on, it was quite a cathartic experience.

I feel the pandemic has given a huge swathe of the population pause for introspection; there’s been a collective slowing down and realigning of priorities for many people, me included. During the height of lockdown, I was working from home two days a week, which finally afforded me the time to take up painting, something I’d been meaning to do for quite some time. I’d never really used paints outside of school projects, but I was confident that the principles I apply when drawing with graphite could be transferred to a paintbrush and canvas. I think the Covid situation has just reaffirmed that life is too short for inertia, and that if there’s something you want to do, you should probably give it a go.

Like many young black people in the UK, I feel frustrated and disheartened by the recent visceral overload of police violence perpetrated disproportionately against African Americans. The constant barrage of images and video clips of people who look like you being subject to violence again and again is not only damaging to the individual and community itself, but also implicitly sends the message that you are in fact less than as a black minority. As someone who has always been conscious of the situation in the UK, what bothered me most was the ‘othering’ of these scenarios, as if it isn’t a phenomenon that occurs here also and isn’t something to be actively concerned about.

I think the biggest lesson life has delivered is the virtue of patience, and that life isn’t a competition. Art has taught me a lot of patience throughout the years, that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing correctly, not to sound too cliché.

Like most children, I spent a large bulk of my childhood drawing, I felt that this was my outlet. I became disillusioned during my A level Art course as I felt there was too much structure and it wasn’t conducive to honing any one skill. I preferred the freedom to focus on the subjects and mediums that I was most interested in. For me personally, being free to create has always been a liberating experience, no matter the goal of the work itself, be it a quick pencil sketch or a protracted portrait study. I actually vividly remember being really proud of a drawing I did of Super Mario at my grandma's house, I was 4 or 5 at the time, and my uncle who is actually an architect, took the A4 drawing and had it scaled up to A1 size and I blue tac’d it to my bedroom wall.

I think I was around 10 when I saw Salvador Dali’s ‘Metamorphosis Of Narcissus’ in the Tate Modern as a child, and I was fascinated by the concepts and execution of his paintings. I didn’t have much grasp on the message of the painting, I was just in disbelief that these abstract concepts could be applied whilst making it look like a photographic installation, that just blew me away. I think his work resonated with me as there was almost a childlike exuberance that belied the contexts involved in his work that I didn’t understand at the time. I think this fascination only increased when I went on to read about his eccentric personality.

I feel that creatives have always had a huge part to play in society by documenting their personal experiences, encapsulating the energy of their respective community and offering a snapshot of current affairs. If we look at how Black Lives Matter has helped galvanise the consciousness of our communities to drive for collective change, we can see how that same energy has been drawn upon by creatives to help push the issue to the fore and inspire and embolden many aspiring artists to give their work a political voice to some extent.

I’m probably at my happiest when I’m around friends, family and great food. My greatest fear is probably not trying to fulfil my potential or disappointing my loved ones.

Shane's 'Contributions' coming soon to the International Slavery Museum