Shantell Martin’s work happens across canvases like a kind of freestyle illustration with thoughts and stories sprawling across walls, paper and objects in visual stream of consciousness. Born in London, Martin’s work has spanned galleries through to electronic interactive installations in venues as diverse as the Museum of Modern Art through to Tokyo nightclubs through to the recent Art Basel. Based in Brooklyn, we visited her inspiring dwelling in a beautifully restored house amongst the streets of classic brownstones in a Bed-Stuy Brooklyn for a chat.
Milk Made: How did your distinctive style come to light?
Shantell Martin: I’m often told that my style is very recognizable and there could be a few reasons for this; one being that growing up there really wasn’t any art around me and even though I ended up at art school I still some how avoided looking at/up other artist’s work. Back then you still got most of your information and research from the library, which was somewhere I didn’t like to go as I found books kind of intimidating. Another reason could be that I have a pretty unique story with regards to my upbringing and where I grew up.
MM: Your workspace appears to be an extension of the canvas you work on. Is it important to be literally surrounded by your work?
SM: Yes, totally it makes for a safe and productive space for me to create in, but if you sit me down or stand me up for long enough in any space it will slowly start to look and feel like my work, I really cant help but draw on everything.
MM: There are hints throughout your work that throw back to family and youth. How do these aspects inspire you?
SM: I guess there is a lot more of that present in my work recently. I’ve really started to try and involve my family more consciously in what I do, be it by collaborating with my grandmother on the needlepoint piece or by sharing images and drawings with my young nieces and nephews. I want them especially to have the chance to be involved in art, as I know there is no one else in the family who is creative in that way.
Click to view the grandmother project
MM: What is the collaborative process like for you? Is it difficult to turn over aspects of your ideas to others whether through the use of a space or limitations?
SM: Collaborating is really one of my favorite things to do and for me its all about giving. If all persons involved are all giving and sharing then you can only learn and grow from working on collaborative projects and you have a lot more chance to successfully overcome any limitations or challenges.
MM: You have branched out beyond the use of tactile elements to create work. How has it been to evolve from paper and marker to installations?
SM: I actually believe in some ways it’s been the other way round for me. I spent the first few years of my career living in Tokyo working as a VJ (Visual Jockey) creating live drawn projected visuals to DJ’s, dancers and musicians. It’s only been in the past couple of years since living in New York that I’ve really started to draw on more tangible objects like walls, cars and large-scale paper and vellum. One thing that has been consistent though is that my work has always strived to engage the audience in a live way.
MM: Your Brooklyn based solo show was like seeing your thoughts evolving across the gallery walls. What was the basis for the show?
SM: The basis for the show was to create a space that was a static show, but was also able to invite the viewer to come back a second or third time and still make new discoveries.
MM: You’ve exhibited in galleries many artists dream to display in. Was there an event that sticks out as particularly poignant?
SM: Recently I did a show in Brooklyn Photo studio where I drew live on a series of large scaled vellum while the very talented Anna Callner played Cello and beats. It was one of the shows where you are completly lost in show, but also very aware that someone else is getting totally inspired and lost along with you. For me these little moments and exchanges are what really stay with you after a show rather than the venue or location it took place in.
MM: What would be a dream project for you?
SM: I can’t kick the ideas of Shantell for Chanel out of my head J. I’d love for Chanel to have me design a pop up store and a line of accessories.
MM: What’s coming up in 2013?
SM: Think I need a 2013 holiday already! Have plenty of shows and travel already planned, which you should keep an eye out of www.shantellmartin.com or @Shantell_Martin for more details and dates. Also happy to see a series of prints available on Artspace continue selling into 2013.
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