(Dialogue Magazine) — Like the lines in her drawings, Shantell Martin’s route to notoriety has been long, winding and unique. From East London to Japan to New York. The phenomenal artist shares some insight into her journey and works.

Dialogue Magazine: In what way did your childhood influence your art?

Shantell Martin: I grew up with my brothers and sisters in a kind of White working-class environment so you find out whether you like it or not, you’re different, whether you like it or not, but at the same time you don’t have the pressure to fit in like everyone else because you don’t look like them. So in a way that gives you a passport to be different, and naturally as a young person, as a child, as a teenager I was interested in art, in making things and drawing things, creating. I was allowed to do that because art in that environment was something that was quite strange, odd or different and because I didn’t look like everyone else people thought that was fine, “that’s just Shantell that’s just what she does.”

I think if I looked like my brothers and sisters or anybody else I wouldn’t have been allowed that freedom to do that.


Shantell Martin with her siblings

DM: Being a student of art, you’ve been exposed to various methods of creating art. Why do you think this method resonated with you?

SM: Well, it’s a method that we all have access to. It’s a method that I started with, which is simply putting a pen or pencil down on a piece of paper and it doesn’t matter where you are or who you are, it’s something you have access to and are able to do. And I like the idea of mastering the line. Making a line is something we all can do and all have access to, but to make it uniquely yours and own it in a way. So, even though I think I could’ve gone into any medium, I like how immediate a drawing is. You can just think it and draw it or think it and write it. There are no steps in between. I also like the fact that it’s something everyone can do, but not everyone can make it as uniquely recognizable as themselves.

DM: After graduating from Central Saint Martins why did you decide to live and work in Japan?

SM: Central Saint Martins is quite a famous school in Japan, it has a nice reputation there and it’s quite famous. A lot of students from Japan go to London to study at Saint Martins so I was exposed to a lot of Japanese students and I got interested in the culture, fashion, animation, movies, the art that came out in Japan. I got interested in that through the Japanese friends I made at Saint Martins.

So, when I graduated, your options as an art graduate seem very slim, but because I had this kind of interest through my Japanese friends I made, I was interested in going to Japan. I really enjoyed Japan initially because you’re just a foreigner, everyone is Japanese and you’re a foreigner. It doesn’t matter what kind of foreigner, you are, you are just a foreigner there and it’s an easier way to find your way. I also felt like Japan is very ‘Western’ so you have those types of advantages and comforts, but at the same time it’s extremely foreign and new. You can go to Japan at a young age and be completely lost, but in an environment that is kinda safe. It’s convenient. It’s comfortable.

No one knows who you are, knows where you’re from, there’re no stereotypes of who you should be. And I liked at the time there was no one who knew me so I could try to find out who I was. Because, as a young adult you typically have people projecting onto you who you are or who you should be and you live up to those projections because that’s what you’re used to doing. So, going to Japan really kind of gave me this new slate to figure out who I was.

DM: Let’s discuss a few of your pieces. Tell us about the drawing ‘This Way’

SM: It was created in the way I used to perform in Japan. It was created digitally, it was a digital canvas and over a period of time I would zoom in and zoom out, move the canvas around, erase sections and redraw them in, so it became a very layered process. The piece, in a way, is about the experience of that process, finding your way through the night, through learning and relearning, undoing and redoing, going backward and forward and essentially we’re all going the same way. We’re going this way.


‘This Way’


DM: About the drawing ‘Open your eyes’

SM: That piece is me thinking about all of the realities we see. We look outside, we look at the news, we hear what’s going on and none of it is constructive. A lot of it is misleading. A lot of it is fake. ‘Open your eyes’ is just a reminder to look and see the truth, see through the trees in the way. Let the sun touch you. Feel it more instead of going out into the world and letting people tell you what you should believe or not believe.

Just be open-minded and see things for yourself.


‘Open your eyes’

DM: Your collaboration with Suno

SM: Suno was a fun project. I was a fan of Suno. They were a fan of mine. And we wanted to create a unique piece that would be very different from their collection. Suno’s work is very bright, very colorful, so we wanted to do something different, something in black and white. The way we created the work was I went to the Suno head office, we invited some friends and family around, I created these two very large drawings and from these drawings we created a dress and t-shirt.

There’s also this idea of where we wanted to find a way to give back…so the t-shirts were made in Kenya and that helped to employ women in Kenya. In New York I went to talk to an organization called Apple Arts. Apple Arts brings arts education to homeless kids in New York. I told them about my work, about Suno, and we did a drawing workshop with them.

Later, when the project with Suno was finished, I went back to Apple Arts and showed them the work and a percentage of the sales went to Apple Arts. So, not only do I get to make a final project and have people wear and buy that, we also created a collaboration where it’s doing some good in the U.S. or overseas.

I like the idea of collaborating because you get to expose your work to a different demographic. You get to make really good projects and perhaps you get to do some good along the way.



T-Shirt and Dress Collaboration with Suno

DM: What would you like patrons of your artwork to take away from them?

SM: People look at my work and with knowing if I’m there or not they smile and for me that’s enough take away. I’m like, “Wow! People look at my work and for some reason it brings energy into a place.” It brings positive energy into a place. It makes people smile, it gives them something and I’m not sure what it is, but it’s given, and for me that’s enough.

What I do enjoy is kind of almost spying on people and just seeing them look at my work and seeing that their natural reaction is to kind of relax and smile. That’s kind of incredible every time I see it.

DM: What’s next for you?

SM: The first week of January I’ll be in Vegas and performing at CES for Intel. From January to June I’ll be doing a residency in San Francisco so during that time I’m not doing any other work apart from that residency. The residency is the Pier 9 Autodesk residency.