The Long Road
Artist Shantell Martin on collaboration, social media, and community funding
By Winter Mendelson on January 24th, 2017
London-born artist Shantell Martin is known for her characteristic black and white illustrative compositions that explore the role of artist and viewer. She moved to New York from Japan in 2008, and around that time began the exploration of her now signature phrase “WHO ARE YOU" as a way to explore herself and reflect on her life. Shantell comments that she "seeks to bring the audience and surroundings into her drawings as a reflection on ever changing time and space." Her work has appeared in the Brooklyn Museum, Museum of the Contemporary African Diaspora, Bata Show Museum and at the prestigious Albright Knox Gallery in Buffalo, New York. I had the lucky opportunity to chat with Shantell here to learn more about her growth as an artist, how she has developed her personal brand, and the ways in which she utilizes social media to connect with her audience.
You have a ton of stuff going on, with shows in New York and Denver, fashion collaborations, prints and pins and originals for sale on your website, your growing vlog and social media, etc. From the outside looking in, it looks like things are snowballing for you in an exciting way. Can you talk about the road you took to get here? How did your identity as an artist evolve, and what current work are you most excited about?
I’ll work backwards on that question. Right now, I’m most excited about building my vlog and opening that window into my life. I’m excited by this as it will allow me to share more than my art. To get to where I am today it’s been a very long road full of ups and downs. If we look at just after moving to New York in 2009 – I’ve just been focusing on collaborating, making work that I’m proud off and not stopping. I hope to share some of these ups and downs in my vlog so people can learn from my mistakes and see what it’s like behind the scenes. Follow along here.
We're blown away by your website, it really feels like a work in and of itself. Can you talk about how it came to be? How does it fit into your art / business toolbox?
I’ve always been proud of my websites since I had my first one built in 2006/7 when I was living in Tokyo. It’s essentially an extension of yourself and art so why not make that a place where people want to explore. You can read and see more about how the site came together here.
What's the most common way people find you and your work, and how is it different now compared to when you were getting started? What's your relationship like with your audience?
I meet people every day that stop me and say “I follow you on Instagram." That definitely was not a thing when I started – talking about websites, that was not really a thing either. There is so much more potential now to find online communities and that is what inspired me to want to create my own community on YouTube in the way that great talents like Casey Neistat do. I’ve always made a point from back in the day till now to be responsive to my audience.
You were recently one of the first members to participate in the launch of Drip, a new tool for creators to fund and build community around their creative practice created by Kickstarter. How did you end up being part of the launch and what has been your experience with it so far?
I’ve been talking with Kickstarter for years now about doing a Kickstarter – one of those things I’ve been intimated to do. When Drip came around they reached out to me thinking I would be a great fit and I was happy to be a part of it. I see it as a great way to try something new and share that new work and those new ideas with a smaller group of supporters.
Is there something you currently wish you knew how to do from an arts business perspective? (If there was a course you could take right now, what might it be about?)
Yeah – I’d love to know how to expand as an artist, how to set up the legal side of things for a potential foundation. I’d love to know strategically what would be the best way to grow and expand from here.
Below the surface of Shantell Martin’s characteristic black and white compositions is an artists’ inquiry into the role of artist and viewer. In Martin’s world, a work of art is inseparable from its creator and its audience, and art is more than an object of admiration disconnected from the process of its inception. Rather, she sees her work as a vehicle to forge new connections between education, design, philosophy and technology — the glue in an increasingly interdisciplinary world. Her methodical practice of bringing the audience and surroundings into her drawings is a reflection on ever changing time and space.
Martin’s work with institutions such as the MIT Media Lab, Autodesk and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts denote her ongoing inquiry into new models and technologies that are transforming the way art is made and consumed. Eschewing traditional art world norms, Martin’s work purposefully bridges fine art, performance art, technology and commercial work. Her artwork has appeared in the Brooklyn Museum, Museum of the Contemporary African Diaspora, Bata Show Museum and at the prestigious Albright Knox Gallery in Buffalo, New York.
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