Above: Shantell Martin at Governers Island, NY 2019.
“ I always begin my work with the trust and understanding that the line will always take me to the truth. ”
The art of Shantell Martin has captivated audiences around the world with its intuitive energy, skill and bravura. Using a highly personalized language of characters, faces, creatures and messages and often rendering her large-scale black and white drawings live in front of an audience, Martin invites viewers to actively engage in her creative process. Exploring themes such as intersectionality, identity and play, Martin is a cultural facilitator, forging new connections between fine art, education, design, philosophy and technology.
We reached out to the artist to discuss her new monograph Lines, published by Heni in two versions: a standard edition and a custom edition artists’ book. Lines includes text by Katharine Stout, a co-founder of The Drawing Room, and an interview with curator Hans Ulrich Obrist.
Brooklyn Museum Shop: How do you start a new project; where do you look for inspiration?
Shantell Martin: Every project is different - a lot of the work I create is site-specific, so a lot of research is done prior to me even arriving and putting a mark on anything. For example, for the New York City Ballet Art Series, I researched the craft of ballet, the founder of the company and the company itself, and then I also interviewed 20+ ballet dancers from the company about their relationship to the craft and the company and created work during rehearsals as well as using those interviews as a source of inspiration. In that way, it became a true collaboration that was also very much informed by the history and the people that make up the New York City Ballet. I always begin my work with the trust and understanding that the line will always take me to the truth.
If I'm creating work that's commissioned I will use the same process and really try to create work that is inspired by the space or the people who the work will be for.
Right: NYC Ballet installation, 2019.
BKMS: Tell us about the book...
SM: Lines was such an incredible opportunity to really dive into the work I've created over the last 10-15 years and the inspiration behind it was to really share my process and growth. I've been so fortunate to work in many different industries and mediums and the book is a really wonderful way to actually see how you can take a simple thing like drawing and truly expand from there. I also really loved the idea of creating two versions of the book, the standard edition as well as the custom edition which is in and of itself an original piece of art. I really believe in making original artwork accessible and this was a really great way to do that.
I love seeing pictures of my old studio and being transported back to this space where I spent hours and hours at the beginning of my career and how much my work and my life has evolved from there.
Left: LINES book, by Heni Publishers, 2020.
Above: Shantell's installation at the Oculus in NYC, 2019.
BKMS: You have been an inspiring and guiding voice in recent weeks; how do you think we can all be more aware, active and change the system?
SM: Listen. Learn and be honest with yourself and trust what you have to offer. I draw. I use a pen to advocate for change. What are your tools? What do you have access to? There are many ways to be an advocate and activist, I do believe that the longevity of your contribution towards change will depend on doing what is truly authentic to who you are.
BKMS: If you could tell your younger self anything, especially in this moment of needed change, what would you say; what might you tell others working to become artists?
SM: Work hard, be patient, trust yourself, and trust your path. It's easy to get distracted comparing yourself or your work to others, but when you liberate yourself from that...you can truly create with freedom.
Left: Shantell at work.
Above: The studio.
The Brooklyn Museum Shop is excited to offer signed copies of Lines available for a limited time as pre-order on shop.brooklynmuseum.org .
All images © Shantell Martin, 2020.