Shantell Martin


There is a little bit autobiography and a little bit of Harold and the Purple Crayon existentialism to Shantell Martin’s work. Her discursive, stream-of-consciousness drawings, often in her signature, unbroken line, trace her many moves—from southeast London, through Central Saint Martins to Tokyo, to New York, where she now lives and works, and where she has been a professor at NYU, to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she was a visiting scholar at the MIT Media Lab—but so too do her drawings, and her performances, create new worlds, new places for her to go. “For me,” she says, “questioning is a medium—it crosses the spectrum.”

BORN: London.

BASED: New York.

AGE: 36.

I MAKE: Words, drawings, lines, connections.

FIRST WORK OF ART I EVER SAW: This rainforest picture in some old museum [Rousseau’s Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!)]. There was something mesmerizing for me about it. It spoke to me as a 10-year-old.

TO CREATE ART, I NEED: To be on a path where I can figure out who I am.

WHAT I DO WHEN I FEEL NERVOUS ABOUT A WORK: Why would I feel nervous about it?

WHEN I STARTED CALLING MYSELF AN ARTIST: Only a few years ago. It felt reserved for certain people. It took a long time of actually making money as an artist for me to actually be like, “All right, you’re an artist.”

THE MOST DIFFICULT WORK I’VE CREATED: I don’t know if there’s a difficult piece of work. It’s difficult to continue being an artist. It’s difficult to allow yourself to progress. It’s difficult to challenge yourself. It’s difficult to be honest with yourself with your work.

HOW I WORK THROUGH A BLOCK: A lot of my work is made in front of an audience. With an audience, you don’t have time to have a block. You don’t have time to be insecure or to overthink things.

A QUESTION I CAN’T ANSWER ABOUT MY WORK: I don’t know—that’s the question.

I’LL ALWAYS ADMIRE: Friends around me who I see being compassionate and not selfish. Hardworking people around me with traits and qualities that I would like to have.