Watching artist Shantell Martin draw is like witnessing a zen archer in action. Her lines are fluid and decisive. There is lightness to her movement and it is easy to tell that she finds it incredibly satisfying to glide that black ink pen over her pristine white walls. She occasionally hesitates, but there are no mistakes.
Last spring Shantell invited me to her Bed-Stuy home as she was beginning to draw on the walls of her bedroom. She actually wrote my name there in the corner with a backwards K! I recently went to her house again to drink homemade green juice, and see the present state of her wall drawings. Of course, I already saw photographs of the now fully covered top floor in a multi-page spread that ran in the New York Times on May 24th, as the cover story of the "Home" section. No big deal.
Shantell and I climbed three sets of stairs to her sanctuary, a world she created out of her bedroom, laundry room, and music room. We took some photos and talked about her incredible, bulls-eye focused work.
When and why did you move to Bed-Stuy?
I moved to Bed-stuy in March 2011. The story is my friends decided that they were going to buy a house in Brooklyn and asked me if I would move in with them, if/when they found the right place. Eventually they found this place, closed the deal and a few months later we all moved in.
Did you draw on everything as a kid? When did you start drawing on objects instead of paper?
As a kid I doodled a bunch in the back of my schoolbooks and sometimes on myself, but I used to get in trouble for that. The big shift from paper to objects happened after moving from Tokyo to New York. In Japan my work was predominantly digital, doing live visuals to DJ’s, dancers and musicians, but I found that those kinds of venues or collaborations didn’t exist so much for me here in New York after I moved, which led me to draw more, discovering the fun of working in a more analog way.
Your drawings are both sprawling and very detailed. Tell us about one of your favorite bits. Tell us about the whole.
In my bedroom, I really love this little guy who is sitting on the edge of a lawn or it could be on an edge of a cliff, this little guy has his arms high in the air and is telling the world ‘I’M ALIVE’ – makes me smile always. As a whole my drawings are full of many moments, ideas, feelings, daydreams and words that are they’re waiting for someone to discover them. Every time you look you find something new.
Tell me about white paint.
With white paint you can renew anything, I really enjoy painting walls and objects white, its like I’m preparing them for a new life, they become my blank canvas full of potential as they wait for me and my pen.
Tell me about Black pens.
My preference when drawing is to use a black pen, it's so simple, but when mastered can turn imagination into reality, I’m looking forward to seeing where my lines will take me in the future.
What about your toys?
The shelves in my bedroom are full of white toys, many of which I collected in my early 20’s. In august last year I went to London to visit my family and found a huge box of toys at my Mums house. I gave my Nephews Harley and Charlie all the wrestlers, Ghostbusters, Thunder Cats and Marvel guys and what was left came back with me. The more I drew on my wall in my room and the more ‘black and white’ it became; the more the colorful characters seemed out of place, so one morning I painted them all white. I like the idea now that I remodeled them for adulthood.
What do you want to draw on next?
Generally I walk down the street and imagine my lines everywhere on everything, but if I were to choose something I’d really love to draw on a private jet, a fleet of cars, that massive wall on Houston, some homeless shelter's walls, a hotel room and a massive group of people.
Will you sign my T-shirt?
This week Shantell can be found in New York, busy as always:
July 12 - 18th / She will be showing off some new works at the Binary Existence Art Exhibit in New York.
July 18th / As DJ Chealse Layland spins she will be doing live visuals on the roof of Soho House New York.
By Bek Andersen
Photographed by Bek Andersen