A Bolder Line: An Interview with Shantell Martin
Published May 16, 2023
Groundbreaking contemporary artist Shantell Martin is captivating the art world with her bold, spontaneous lines and a powerfully unique visual language.
Cover image: Michelle Mosqueda.
A British-born, U.S.-based artist, Shantell’s practice spans multiple disciplines including painting, drawing, animation, projection mapping, and performance art. Her work has been exhibited in galleries and museums around the world and she is no stranger to iconic collaborations, including projects with Ralph Lauren, Tiffany & Co., Kendrick Lamar, Google, New York City Ballet and many others. As an intuitive philosopher and cultural facilitator, Shantell’s influence on the industry is undeniable.
In this exclusive interview, we gain insight into her creative journey, her views on art as a universal language, and the significance of her work.
IG: Hi Shantell, it’s great to have this opportunity to speak with you today. Can you tell us about your journey and how you got started as an artist?
Shantell: It’s been exactly that – a journey. Somehow, I’ve just put one foot in front of the other, exploring my creative interests in search of my line, and one day woke up as an artist.
IG: Who were some of your mentors or inspirations along the way that helped shape your artistic style?
Shantell: I think there has always been a core style or fingerprint that has always been present. But, I was really able to tap into it and explore it more deeply when I moved to Japan. There, I performed and presented my work at different events and clubs. For example, an ongoing series, Test Tone, was an event I participated in many times – and there, I was able to delve further into my medium with more attention and detail.
Venues like Super Deluxe hosted a number of different types of performances that inspired me. And then there are the individuals, like Ben Sheppee, who have been at the forefront of visuals and performances and mentored me and gave me opportunities to explore and incubate ideas.
IG: Your signature style is very unique, characterized by spontaneity and the devoted use of black and white. Can you talk about how you developed your own artistic vision?
Shantell: It’s been an ongoing process of extraction. As I mentioned previously, I think there is a unique core and identity that makes us, us. Through this process of extracting and looking inward, that identity can come to the surface, becoming more refined and confident over time. There’s a goal of wanting to progress and define my message while also exploring scale, audience interaction, and ways to continue pushing the envelope.
IG: Your art has been exhibited all over the world and you’ve collaborated with iconic brands and institutions. Can you tell us about a particular project or exhibition that was particularly meaningful or impactful to you?
Shantell: Choreographing my first ballet for the Boston Ballet was an incredible opportunity. It was a very different way of watching my work unfold – with the help of multiple other people, from the dancers to the costume department to the stage design and lighting – I loved the idea of taking a drawing and taking it to a completely different industry and medium. It leads people to inquire if I’m a dancer and I’m not. People forget that a creative identity can be taken anywhere; perhaps, it’s just not done that often.
IG: Looking ahead, are there any other creatives or organizations you would love to partner up with in the future?
Shantell: I’d love to work with Rolex, Porsche, and a creative I respect, Bjork. I’d love to work with an architect and create a building or outdoor playground. Another thing that comes to mind… teaming up with a sailing organization to make little Shantell sailing boats. That could be nice.
IG: One of your most interesting projects is the “The May Room” on Governors Island. Can you take us through that piece and the meaning behind it?
Shantell: The May Room is a space for poetry, freedom, and contemplation. It’s a concept that I imagine traveling in the future, both physically and virtually. The idea is that you go in, take your shoes off, and leave the outside and outside. You walk along the maze on the floor, presented as a drawing. You become calm and explore the space on your own terms and time. I wanted to create a sanctuary to dial down, away from technology and electricity, someplace where you can come in and breathe.
IG: You’ve spoken in the past about using your art as a means for promoting positivity and connection within communities. Can you talk more about this and why it’s important to you?
Shantell: I think art is a common language. Despite other barriers, backgrounds, and philosophies – art is a bridge that gives us interests and experiences, asks us questions, and inspires us to grow, be creative and stay connected with one another. It is all extremely important.
IG: Is there an artist you know who deserves more recognition and exposure? Can you tell us a little bit about them?
Shantell: Good question. Nike Roehrek – she’s a half-Japanese, half-German artist based in Japan. Her work is peaceful, positive, and colorful. I am a huge fan.
IG: Thinking of those looking to start a creative career, is there a piece of advice you would give an aspiring artist today?
Shantell: Take your time; you are in no rush. Be inspired by what’s already inside you instead of going out into the world and trying to seek something other than yourself.
IG: What’s next for you? Any current or future projects that you’re particularly excited about?
Shantell: I’m excited to grow and incubate this idea of present word, a performance I have been working on recently. I’d love to also put an interactive memoir out into the world.
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