Who Are You: Shantell Martin

Who Are You: Shantell Martin

As I watched visual artist Shantell Martin run her black pen across the walls of her bedroom during her StylelikeU profile, I sat up in my bed staring at my laptop in awe. Shantell sat on the floor dressed in all white covered in her stream of consciousness drawings and I couldn't help but want to know more. Her work comes to life no matter the canvas and continuously poses the question, "Who are you?" Over email we talk why she continues to create each and every day, advice for new artists and whether or not there is such a thing as separation between art and the artist. 

Who are you and what do you do ?

I’m Shantell Martin, a curious human being that has discovered how to question the world through what I naturally love to do - drawing.

Growing up as a brown girl in a predominately white household, how did your blackness manifest itself in your art?

Not looking like anyone else in my family was not an issue, it was only when I stepped outside and people would start to make assumptions about who I was or what my family should look like or what was expected of me. All these things pushed me to be more of an individual and be secure and comfortable with myself.

"Who are you" is a question posed in a large portion of your work. Have you come to an answer? Is the answer even important?

The important thing is that we continue to be curious and question everything. This is how we grow, learn and share. There are times when we find answers, but with these answers are also the realization that you have to start all over again. It's a continuous cycle of being pushed forward in the world.

Is there a separation between the art and the artist? Should the audience separate the two?

This is something I have thought a lot about for myself and I don’t believe there is. There is such a thing as an artist professional life and personal life, but the artist and the art they create are essentially the same thing.

Why do you continue to create? What obstacles do you face as a creative trying to live off of their art?

A moment I have grown to love is seeing strangers or people I know look at my work and smile. There is something so magical about seeing a stranger respond to something you created in this way. Also for all of you out there that have stopped me on the street and said you love my work, you all help me to continue creating. We are all human and no matter what we do or achieve we will have evolving issues with confidence, trying to understand the point of it all, growing pains and some stuff in between.

I know that you teach a course at the NYU Tisch School. How has teaching "Drawing On Everything" effected the way you create and work and what advice do you have for aspiring artists, particularly those of color?

My advice for artists is pretty much the same. Don’t wait for anyone to give you an opportunity, go create you own and do that by using what you have access to. Teaching has taught me to always keep growing, experimenting and progressing.

5 fave things at the moment ( this can be anything from food to films and everything in between) ?

Sarah Jones, Wave - not your average coloring book, avocado’s, walking, learning new skills

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