Shaquille-Aaron Keith Creates Art Out of Authenticity
The Internet star talks about his artistic endeavors and personal style in this exclusive V Man interview.
“My art is my storytelling—the microphone is my paintbrush, or my pen, or my pencil.”
Shaquille-Aaron Keith is a modern Renaissance man. A faucet of self-expression and wheelhouse of talent, his art spans modes of creation: he is a painter, a poet, a fashion mogul, a 21st-century visionary leaking his ingenious into the mainstream.
A connoisseur of many talents, Keith goes by many names—Shaquille to some, Shakka to others, and perhaps simply Shaq to most, avid fans and followers who know him from PAQ, the viral YouTube fashion series which originated under the genius of Keith and his three co-hosts in 2017 and came to an end in 2020, amassing over 800,000 subscribers and a cult fanbase along the way.
It was on PAQ that Keith’s style first appeared to watchers, notable for its authenticity and distinctive vibe, falling somewhere between 90s hip-hop and modern art student, with berets, silver hoop earrings, wife beaters and dungarees making staple pieces throughout his wardrobe.
“My personal style is just whatever I like,” said Keith. “I think I have an idea of this cool person in my head, and the only person that’s going to be able to embody that vision is me—it’s in my head, no one else’s.”
While being entirely his own, his personal style draws inspiration from icons like Tupac Shakur some days, Lenny Kravtiz others, and Andre 3000 in healthy doses. Keith’s Instagram feed is riddled with creative, adventurous outfits that make one thing plainly clear: he is a man who has studied the art of fashion, understands the intricacies and nuances of labels and silhouettes and eras. Keith’s outfits are the well-prepared products of history and an educated foundation, as opposed to happy coincidences of labeled garments which pair nicely together.
“If you care about fashion, learn about the history,” Keith advises. “Don’t just know what Margiela is—learn about Margiela, learn about the product, learn about the story, about your passion.”
Fashion has been embedded in the core of who Keith is since his mother brought home a bag of vintage designer labels from a charity shop in his childhood—what began as a few YSL and Polo logos has spiraled into a small empire, sparking some of PAQ’s best thrifting-themed episodes and an enviable, eclectic wardrobe full to the brim with unique pieces spanning major fashion houses and smaller, local London designers.
“One of my favorite fits I’ve ever worn was this giant blue puffer,” he said. “It’s made by my friend who has this brand called Tumiila. It was this ridiculously big and ridiculously cool oversized puffer, and I had my hair tied up and I was wearing leather trousers, and I had blue eyeshadow. That whole outfit to me was a moment.”
Now, with lockdown and the pandemic, the fashion scene has come to an abrupt halt (although Keith’s social media still witnesses an outpouring of fit pic content), allowing him to focus more on his visual art, a talent which he’s fostered since his childhood.
“If anything, [lockdown] has kind of pushed me to go even deeper with my artistic pathway,” said Keith. “Unfortunately it has been very draining, but I think I’ve found the silver lining in the whole situation, so I feel pretty blessed to have that. It’s been a good growing period for me.”
Versatile in his art as he is in his style, Keith’s paintings are a reflection of the world and of himself, an homage to culture and growth. His subject matter is often intensely personal and evocative, deep emotions coming to light through slightly abstract Surrealism, telling a story and sharing a message whether it be about himself or a reflection of society as a whole.
“I want people to see that I’m telling these stories for people who don’t have space to articulate their stories,” said Keith. “I’ve captured moments in my life that some people might resonate with, and I cover things that not everyone really talks about. I don’t think there’s a name for what I’m doing—I can just be Shaquille.”
And what “Shaquille” is, a genre in itself, is authenticity. His paintings are soaked in originality, speaking from personal experience or drawing from real life, and his accompanying poems are moving, expressive syntheses between his various modes of production.
One of Keith’s biggest sources of inspiration, both in his style and his art, is Black culture. Some of his most poignant paintings feature the Black subject depicted in beauty—”Waltz of the Flowers” is a feat of depicting human anatomy and the intimacy of the nude figure—while others, bright and emotional and alive, are embedded more deeply in themes of trauma and shared suffering, such as “Inherited Pain.”
“No one is above human emotion,” said Keith. “My whole thing is to strip back the ego; I’m not an influencer, I don’t know how the world views me if I’m popular or unpopular. I just know that I have a few followers on Instagram, I’ve had a talent my entire life, and I have something to prove to myself in the world. I’m lucky that it’s appreciated by the right people.”
One of Keith’s longest-running projects, however, remains entirely his own—unfinished until he, too, is done. “The On-Going Performance” is a suit Keith has had since 2017, swathed in brushstrokes and colors from the resulting mess of whatever painting Keith is working on whilst he wears it. As his painting uniform, the nature of the suit is that it is a years-long, continuous process, one which will only be retired in the face of Keith’s abandonment of his craft or his passing on—a serious, profound artistic statement for one in their 20s to make.
“Ultimately, I don’t think I’ll ever stop painting,” said Keith. “Everyone wishes they could live forever to some extent, so it’ll probably be the second option.”
And with no end in sight for Keith’s outpouring of creative content, the horizon sees expansive, clear skies ahead for him, an endless wealth of possibilities.
“At this point it’s long overdue that I drop a poetry book, something raw and real that my original writing can be in, because there are some truths on there that I don’t show on social media,” he said.
“But to be honest with you, I can’t tell you what to expect next, because I don’t even know what to expect next—but I do what I feel, so expect something.”