Shantell Martin‘s art is about connections. The connections that surround us. It is—like us—at once chaotic and uniformed. The New York-based British artist’s practice is shaped by a stream-of-consciousness that is creative thinking in its most primitive essence. It is naïve and primal, yet look deeper and it is rich in introspection and commentary on the interdisciplinary world we live in.
Martin’s canvases range from bodies to complex computer projections, and it’s in that diversity that her work is rooted. That we and the things that we consume—and that consume us—are as key to her practice as the art itself. Her signature doodlings merely serve as the connections between society and its systems. Working with institutions such as the MIT Media Lab, Autodesk, and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, she is an artist pushing the limits of what art can be and how it can be consumed.
With collaborations as diverse as Tiffany & Co. and Kendrick Lamar, Shantell Martin’s star continues to ascend—which means attendees at this year’s Us By Night will be eager to learn more about her work, and the person behind it. As the Antwerp creativity festival have just announced their full programme for the event taking place between 22—24 November—where Martin will be joined by names like Mr. Bingo; Eric Kessels; Joshua Davis; Mirko Borsche; and United Visual Artists—we spoke to Shantell about freedom of expression, spaceships, inspiration, and collaborating with Kendrick …
It’s thought that we create more order in our brains as we age, and that many common mental illnesses are a result of an excess. There’s a youthful entropy in your work, does it feel liberating to abandon order, do you feel your work improves your mental state, or helps you emotionally?
Absolutely. Drawing has always been something I did because it made me feel good. I think art and creative space is important to create on both a private and personal level but also on a larger public space level to better improve the way live, the way we think, and feel. My work is always about offering something positive and something that helps you find your way, the way I’m still finding my way. Freedom of expression.
Does that freedom allow for a sort of escapism in your work?
I live a quite disciplined lifestyle, I can’t create work when my studio or my life in general is disorganised … but I don’t know if I would call the creation of my work a sort of escapism. I find my work comes from a place of being truly present and from that place I find spontaneity and freedom.
You began live-drawing in Tokyo clubs, what sort of effect did that have on where you’re at now with your practice?
Japan effected my work on so many levels, but it does come back to that place of finding myself having to be completely honest and completely present. Also, living in a culture that values the continuous practice of a craft. Regardless of time—because really it takes lifetimes, generations upon generations—that gave me a completely different understanding of my work as an artist and removed a lot of the pressure that I had imposed on myself from art school.
Do you feel your art would have been different if you had stayed in the UK, and if so how?
I feel like this is a very hard questions to answer … I wouldn’t be who I am if I hadn’t left the UK and experienced life from living abroad. So I guess, the answer is yes. I’m just not sure how.
Have you had a career highlight?
So many. I mean everything I’ve done so far … I still pinch myself that I can say that I get to draw for a living and create work that people respond to so positively. But I can’t say that I have a highlight. I still have so much I want to do.
Bicycles to human flesh, there isn’t much you haven’t drawn on—is there a dream surface, a fantasy project?
Not sure … airplanes, spaceships, The Guggenheim, the Sydney Opera House? There are just too many.
What’s more nerve-racking, live drawing or talking at events like Us By Night? And what can we expect from you this November?
Not sure. I truly enjoy doing both so I wouldn’t say theres a nerve-racking feeling leading up to either. And, Us By Night? You’ll have to join us in Antwerp to find out!
Do you personally take inspiration from events like this?
Of course, how could you not? There are so many creative people to learn from and collaborate with. That’s the best thing about events like Us By Night … meeting more likeminded people who inspire you to do what you do.
Lastly, and I’m sure everyone asks, what’s Kendrick like?
A great collaborator and kind human being.
Shantell Martin will be talking at the third edition of Antwerp’s brilliant design and creativity festival, Us By Night, taking place 22—24 November. Tickets are on sale now.