It’s easier to be unoriginal in a globalized culture, where Instagram seemingly dictates beauty standards and plagiarism is just one copy-paste away.
That’s why Shantell Martin’s art so special. She is a cultural facilitator, forging new connections between fine art, education, design, philosophy and technology. The British-born, New York-based artist is most recognized by her signature stream-of-consciousness physical drawings, which are conceived through her meditative process and uninhibited flow. She’s experimented with textiles, ceramics, circuitry, and embroidery, but her drawings and light projections are what has fueled her rapid ascent into mainstream design. The artist has collaborated with iconic brands like Nike, Vitra, Max Mara, Tiffany & Co., and in 2018, Puma launched a global capsule collection featuring her drawings.
Her work architects a fantastical world wherein the viewer is an essential element. Her love language is a line—where it forms, how it contorts, and how it travels remain undetermined until pen meets paper. Editors at Vogue and New York Magazine have caught the Shantell Martin bug, as well as Kendrick Lamar, who collaborated with the artist on a performance at Art Basel a few years back.
She’s a self-assured “cool girl” with a once-in-a-generation talent, and if there’s one thing we’re sure of, it’s that you’ll be seeing much more Shantell Martin in 2019.
You often do “live art” performances. Tell us a bit about that process and why you think it’s captured the attention of so many people.
Creating in front of an audience has become a fundamental part of my process. I think it is important for artists to share their process with their audience, in a way it demystifies and yet unifies the bond between the work and the audience. This creates more of a personal relationship with the work. As an artist it keeps me very present, there is no place to hide or hesitate and that creates an honesty that the work is then imbued with. I think it’s this honesty that really cements the relationship my audience has with me and the work.
Where does your passion/drive come from?
I can’t really say. It’s a part of who I am.
When you lived in Japan, you drew in a small sketchbook—but in the US, you’re afforded the space to do larger installations. What are some pros and cons of each type of work?
It’s interesting, someone recently said to me that my work has had different line-width periods. This has happened quite naturally without any forethought. I look at my projects as opportunities to evolve as both an artist and a person, the line is a reflection of this growth but also it is a reflection of the space I’m working within and how I am able to use the right tools to create in each unique space.
You’ve spoken about how you don’t always know what you’re doing with a drawing, but you come to it with a good intention to make it work. How do you think that theory of thought applies to life, too?
I think it comes back to that point of honesty. Intention is a very powerful aspect of existence. Essentially, and I think many people whether “artists” or not, can relate to being fueled by a purpose or the search for purpose. This purpose is like the internal line which for me becomes something external with the lines of my art. I have a purpose which is very much tied to exploring the essence of humanity and the world… it comes from a place of pure curiosity and empathy and I feel that intention to connect with the deepest part of myself and YOU is a universal feeling.
What’s been the biggest surprise or highlight of your career to date?
I’m still surprised that I get to make my art for a living.
You’ve collaborated with mega brands like Puma and Tiffany & Co. What’s a company you’d love to work with in the future and why?
NASA - it’s been a dream since I was a child. I mean I’d love to see my lines out in space! Also HERMES they’ve been supporting artists for years and I greatly admire the craftsmanship and integrity of their work.
What about your job makes you feel the most fulfilled?
I love seeing the smiles on peoples faces when they see my work. That’s really special. I also love collaborating and exploring other creative spaces with other people who are masters in their fields.
In a world where likes and follower counts are so coveted, how do you stay authentic and true to yourself/your brand?
Keep it simple, be honest. Be YOU.
When you hit a bump or hurdle in your career, how do you find new roads + switch gears to find success?
I keep drawing. I keep working. Staying committed to the work and faithful to the practice is something very important to me. Also, I still practice going out into the world and seeking a “no”. By that, I mean to say that I ask for things expecting to get rejected. I consciously practice becoming more comfortable with rejection, and when you do that you will see that you more often than not will get a “yes” and that it actually feels great to hear “no” which is a sign that you’re growing and aiming higher and higher.
What are you most excited for in 2019?
My collaboration with the New York City Ballet.