Shantell Martin – Maker, Collaborator, Drawer, and Big Kid

Finding an artist today that is successful in museums, with commercial products, and on the streets is a rare occurrence. It takes a lot of innovation and drive on the artist’s part, but it also takes artwork that speaks to people across generations, race, and sex. Shantell Martin is one of the few that brings all of this together. Martin now has outdoor installations across America, and has collaborated with brands such as Nike, Puma, Tiffany & Co., and Kendrick Lamar. Soon, she will also have her own exhibit at the Denver Art Museum.

Young artists can take a piece of advice from Martin, who says, “I like to say, if there are no doors, go out a window.” [1]

Born and raised in London, the artist eventually moved to Japan to teach English. While she was there, her artistic presence took root in nightclubs. Her work was created and projected in real time, often moving with the music and creating an aesthetic she now calls “creepy cute” on a small scale. [1] After moving to New York a few years later, she quickly realized that galleries were not interested in displaying her art. They appreciated the work, but they were not interested in starting a new artist who did not have an American following. Martin adapted. She moved on from the gallery scene, and went on to create her own opportunities by working in innovative spaces.

Shantell Martin’s first Denver artwork was an installation downtown. Don’t Hide incorporated three monumental canvases installed along Champa Street while her drawings covered the surrounding sidewalks. The canvases reinstate the question, “who are you?” With this work, Shantell Martin encourages others to look inside themselves — to see their true core.  

Shantell Martin, “Don’t Hide” installation on Champa Street.

“’I’m obsessed with this question of ‘who are you,’ because it’s about figuring out my way in life,’ she explains. So who is Shantell Martin? ‘I’m a maker, collaborator, a drawer, and a big kid,’ she says laughing.” [2]

If one looked up, they saw the canvases, but if they looked down, they saw a continuous stream of faces, figures and shapes. As you walk, the smooth, active line entrances you. In front of the Convention Center, one is bound to observe others engaging with the artwork. Combining the theme of identity and play attempts to bring people more in touch with themselves and others.

All of Martin’s drawings become meditative. Lines flow in and out, always connected, and the addition of eyes, figures, and words fill the space in a balanced way. She has this to say about her drawings:

“You want a certain amount of spontaneity. You want a certain amount of intuitiveness in it. But you don’t want to go blind, either. So when I create a drawing, I do start anywhere. But there is a process. And that process is to create an initial line. And that initial line I call the DNA of a drawing,” Martin says. “Once I’ve created that DNA, it’s almost like a crossword puzzle for me. Maybe there’s a line that’s smooth and round that reminds me of a side of a face. And I would draw a nose, then a mouth, then a couple of eyes. So you create this initial line that then gives you clues back. That can carry through within your business. That process–that underneath layer–has your style, your identity. It’s your core.” [1]

Denver’s fascination with Shantell Martin and her cleaver black and white drawings continues to grow. On September 27, 2019, Words and Lines will open at the Denver Art Museum. One room will focus specifically on a full Martin installation, including an interactive wall, projections, and of course, drawings. From there, the artist will continue the installation throughout various parts of the museum. [3]

Female artists such as Shantell Martin serve as inspiration for artists at The Gathering Place, and many more members of the community. Support her efforts by attending Words and Lines, viewing her work in front of the Colorado Convention Center, and visiting Martin’s website at https://shantellmartin.art/­­­­­­­.

Shantell Martin completing “Don’t Hide” in front of the Colorado Convention Center.

 

[1] Lawson, Sarah. “Business Models For A Modern Artist.” Fast Company, Fast Company, 27 Apr. 2017, www.fastcompany.com/3052055/business-models-for-a-modern-artist.

[2] Sargent, Antwaun. “A Studio Visit With Artist Shantell Martin.” Vogue, Vogue, 1 Feb. 2017, www.vogue.com/article/shantell-martin-illustrator-mocada-exhibition.

[3] “Shantell Martin.” Denver Art Museum, denverartmuseum.org/exhibitions/shantell-martin.

[4] “Shantell Martin.” Shantell Martin, shantellmartin.art/.

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