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A Conversation with Shantell Martin

Photo By Tom Chaplin

Welcome to our interview series where we feature talented artists from around the world. Today, we have the pleasure of speaking with Shantell Martin, a British-born artist and philosopher known for her playful and intricate drawings, which combine elements of graffiti, fine art, and digital technology. Martin’s work is characterized by bold, continuous lines that form whimsical figures and patterns, often accompanied by thought-provoking messages. In this interview, we will explore Martin’s creative process, the inspirations behind her work, and her experiences as an artist.

Tell us a little bit about your background. Were you always an artist?

I’m from southeast London, and I never knew I would be an artist when I was younger or even older. I kind of just put one foot in front of the other, and that’s where I ended up today.

Photo By Connie Tsang

You worked as an artist in London, Tokyo, New York and now LA. How have these cities influenced you? Were you more creative in one city versus another? Did you create different works in one city versus another?

I’ve been a different person in all of those places. I’ve been to many places and met different people, impacting the medium, scale, and way people interacted with my work. For example, as a VJ in Japan, I created works in clubs. In New York, I created large-scale installations. In London, I focused on detailed drawings in my sketchbook. Now that I spend a lot of time in LA – I’m leaning more into live performances.

Lincoln Center New York City Ballet / Photo by Emanuel Hahn

What motivates you to create every day?

It’s something I never had to try and do. It’s part of my DNA. I feel like I need to, and I want to. On the days when I don’t want to make something; I take them off.

‘WHO ARE YOU? YOU ARE YOU. ARE YOU YOU?’ is an important statement in your work. Can you please explain this to our readers?

It’s an evolution of finding yourself. You have to ask yourself that big scary existential question, but I like to simplify it by looking at the first three letters, which are W-A-Y. To me this represents finding your way, and to do so, you need a destination. That’s where YOU ARE YOU comes from. The first three letters are Y-A-Y. Finding your W-A-Y to Y-A-Y. But as with anything, we want to avoid getting stuck. To do this you have to complete the cycle and ask yourself the original question, keep learning and growing – ARE YOU YOU, is an evolution and progression of the original question.

Photo By Connie Tsang

You are constantly doing various collaborations. Just this year you have done Ralph Lauren, Cole Haan, NFTs, Hoek Home, among others. One that really stuck out to me is the Boston Ballet. You choreographed a ballet! How exciting. Was this challenging?

Choreography and drawings are quite different. I actually find they’re very similar – drawing and dancing are the same. It’s about movement, space, and the time in between. Instead of drawing with pens, I’m drawing with eleven dancers. It was extremely challenging but fun, and in my mind, I composed a drawing in the form of a ballet.

Photo by Rosalie O’Connor / Courtesy of Boston Ballet

You are doing more live performances lately. How did this come about? Are there specific themes you like to include?

I’ve been doing performances on and off for ten years, but it’s only recently that I’ve decided to commit to them consistently. So wish me luck! I love having the audience be a part of my show. Interaction and remaining present are continuous themes.

WTC The OCULUS / Photo By Steven Simione

Anything we should look out for in 2023?

More performances, the release of my font Shantell Sans, and hopefully I’ll start vlogging again.

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