Shantell Martin: Making Art You Can Feel
Shantell Martin just drew all over the David H. Koch Theater — well, kind of. Home of the New York City Ballet, the theater features an annual artist series, in which one artist transforms the three-story space into a pop-up exhibit. And currently, Martin’s drawings — composed of lines, faces, and phrases — are taking the stage.
Known for her playful, thought-provoking drawings, Martin has more than a few impressive collaborations under her belt. She recently teamed up with Puma to design a collection, worked with Kendrick Lamar on an Art Basel Miami project, and even took over San Francisco’s Chandran Gallery. Although her Koch Theater exhibit may feel larger-than-life, make sure to look closely. Within the work, you’ll find words that resonate, faces that feel familiar, and lines you can follow. Shantell’s drawings are not only whimsical, but they are also highly relatable — representing the most pure form of play and introspection. Read ahead for our exclusive interview with Shantell Martin, and peep her studio tour below.
How did you start creating?
SHANTELL MARTIN: As a child I was always drawing, so I guess it all started there.
You have a signature style, consisting of of black and white drawings. How did you arrive at that?
SM: Through years and years of being dedicated to my practice, and then just simplifying it to explore the depths that I can reach within that stripped down language of connection.
What has your journey as a creative been like? Have you had other jobs or chapters in your career?
SM: It's certainly been challenging at times. But again, I've always been committed to it, and that's what's kept me going even when times were tough. I worked in retail and did odd jobs while I was in school. I also taught English during a period while living in Japan. But for the most part, I've been fortunate to be able to make a living creating my work.
What is your creative process like? Does it start with an idea or concept?
SM: Everything I do starts with a good intention, a dedication to staying true to myself, and following the pen.
What was your biggest struggle or challenge to overcome thus far in your career?
SM: There have been different struggles at different times. I think the way I've overcome them is by being committed to being myself, and letting my work dictate the direction I would grow and evolve as a professional artist.
What are you most proud of — both in general and in terms of your career?
SM: I'm not too sure, I'm really honored and proud of a lot of the collaborative work that I've been involved in. My collaboration with the New York City Ballet for the 2019 Art Series has been an amazing project to be a part of.
Now for few favorites…
Favorite thing to wear?
SM: White button down shirt and jeans.
Favorite album to listen to while working?
SM: I'm listening to DRAMA right now a lot in my studio.
SM: My Clydes that I made for my PUMA collection.
SM: So many to choose from! I love Mexico City, Singapore and Toronto.
Most recent discovery?
SM: I've recently started taking acting classes (and hope to explore that more professionally) so I've been going to more theater to learn the craft. I went to see Hear More! at The Public Theater this past weekend, and recommend it as a must-see, such powerful work!
Night owl or early riser?
SM: Early riser. Sometimes if I get jet lag it switches but for the most part I like to get to bed early.
Favorite way to disconnect?
Watching documentaries and some good BBC shows on Netflix/Amazon.
For more of Shantell Martin, check out her work here.