Shantell Martin

Shantel Martin is a NYC based artist best known for her black and white compositions. The work of Shantell Martin is a meditation of lines, a language of characters, creatures, and messages that invites her viewers to share in her creative process.

Hi, Shantell. First of all, thank you for agreeing to this interview and welcome to Māgoa. We are really honoured to present you and your work to our online readers.

What first got you interested in being an artist? 

I have always used drawing as something that helped me find peace of mind and comfort. I don’t know if I ever thought about “being an artist”, but I truly committed to being creative and doing something with that creativity in my 20’s.

What was the inspiration for your career route? 

There was no real thought in my career route other than creating opportunities for myself when others weren’t there to create those opportunities for me.

You mentioned in an interview with The New Yorker that you start your works with a spontaneous line across the canvas. In the second stage of designing you fill in the shapes and add all the details – so that it’s like a language unfolded. 

Did you know this was your way of designing since the very beginning (so like a moment) or was it more of a gradual process?

I think that it’s been more of a general process. I used to work in a very complex, detail oriented way, and I still do, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate the simplicity of just creating and not over thinking the process.

What does your typical workday look like? 

It varies, day to day, week to week.

You draw on everything – shoes, cars, walls, canvases, clothes, etc. But what would be your “canvas” of choice? 

I love working on paper but honestly, all canvas is an opportunity for freedom and creativity.

Which of them was the most interesting memory or experience for you?

I can’t recall anything specifically. I love working in the public art sphere and having the public’s participation which also inspires the work.

How would you describe yourself in three words? 

Thoughtful, Playful, Organized.

Why do you choose to draw mainly in black and white? 

I don’t only work in black and white, I do work in color and even in my black and white work, I always see color. I always say that the audience brings the color, and by that, I mean they get to bring their imagination into their experience with my work.

What was your experience like studying at such a prestigious school as Central Saint Martins? Was it everything you hoped it was going to be? How did the London atmosphere influence your work? 

It was a very liberating experience being around so many different types of people and getting to really immerse myself in my work and be exposed to so many types of art.

After your studies at CSM you moved to Japan. How did the move influence your work? Was it completely different to the design you are doing now or do you see some connections? 

It influenced my work in the sense that I really got to understand the importance of discipline and perfecting one’s craft. The work I did then was very detailed and that’s where I also started drawing publicly as a visual jockey, which is where I really learned the importance of staying authentically myself, honest, and present while creating.

Why did you decide to leave Japan and settle in New York? 

I knew I needed a change, I had found a lot of success there but I felt that I was becoming very comfortable and I knew that in order for my creativity to thrive, I needed a new challenge. I needed to push myself in new ways… and I had fallen in love with New York on a holiday that I had taken so it seemed like the best next step.

We are really impressed with the work you have been creating for many years now because of the effortless way you combine well-known brands with your own aesthetic. How do you usually approach these collaborations? 

I keep it simple, if it’s a good fit, I’ll do it. If it’s not, I won’t.

Our readers here in Ljubljana had got to know you because of your collaboration with Puma, which was available in different stores around the city. What’s your favorite memory about the collaboration and how did you come up with the main idea for it? 

I don’t know if I have a favorite memory, the whole thing has been great and I’m really proud of the work I created.

The inspiration behind it was my childhood and growing up during the 80’s and 90’s and how people were really using streetwear to express their individual style.

What would you say is the most challenging aspect of your career?

Probably finding a work-life balance. I’m always working but I know that it is equally important to rest and step away from the work to recharge.

Another fascinating project dates back in 2016, when you worked on a piece with Kendrick Lamar. How did that come into being and what was the experience of two talented artists of different profession working together like?

I don’t remember exactly how it came together but it was a beautiful experience and I think there is something to be said about the importance of artists from all mediums coming together and influencing each other and collaborating on work. I don’t believe that you have to be just one thing … you can be a painter who also makes music or a musician who also sculpts, etc.

Does music play an important role in your work?

I think music is really influential in my work, but I don’t always use it while drawing. Sometimes I want the sound and that relationship incorporated into my work, and sometimes I want the quiet of my studio and my mind to be incorporated into the work.

In the beginning of this year you have started with your own YouTube channel. Have you always wanted to make videos showing your life and work? Or was it maybe the influence of some of your friends or other YouTubers that made start your own channel? 

I actually was “vloging” and creating videos before I left London, I don’t know I think I’ve always been into capturing moments and times of my life in either film or photographs, and I had posted on YouTube years ago, but over the last two years, I’ve found more time to be more committed to posting regularly and that’s really what inspired me to officially create my channel.  

What would you consider to be your greatest achievement? 

I don’t know… I feel like this is something you ask someone who’s at the end of their life. For me, I’m still in it vs judging what I have or have not done/accomplished.

You have a very influential voice in this industry. What are some of the causes you are particularly passionate about? What role do you think art plays in the larger political conversation as well as society today?

I’m extremely passionate about artists becoming more independent through business/financial education that artists need to function more successfully on their own. (Without third parties, etc.)

I believe this is one area that most art schools don’t focus on and that’s because the art world is dependent on artists being dependent on curators, galleries, art schools, etc. but that needs to change and it will, over time.

I’ve always believed that art is a reflection of the conversations we’re having as people in society. Now more than ever, people, especially women and POC/minorities are finding the strength and courage to have more open conversations about the challenges they face and the injustice that arise from broken systems.

As we’ve previously mentioned, you have successfully collaborated with brands like Puma, Max Mara, Tiffany & Co., etc. What’s next on the list? Is there something specific you would like to accomplish next year? 

Not sure yet. We’ll see. 😉

Shantell, thank you very much for your time and answers. The best of luck with your career and upcoming projects!

Visit Shantell’s website

Photography: Anton & Irene , Connie Tsang , Jon Paciaroni , Roy Rochlin , Ryan Bevans , Ryan Emberley