A few years ago, I was lucky enough to catch a creative conference in Los Angeles where taking to the stage were Dave Grohl, Billie Eilish, and M. Night Shyamalan – all speaking in their North American accents. Imagine my delight as a Brit when Shantell Martin took to the stage, speaking about finding one's identity as an artist in her London accent. Suddenly things felt more homely, and the creative more than held her own on the big stage.
Since then, the visual artist has launched an art book, called out performative allyship and artist exploitation of Microsoft during last summer's protests, and even showed her first career retrospective.
Shantell also recently collaborated with the Whitney Museum Shop on the LINE collection, available online and to purchase in-store at New York's famous Whitney Museum of American Art. We caught up with Shantell to find out more about her not just taking over the Whitney, but the world.
Hi Shantell, how's it going? Please tell us more about the Whitney project.
My collaboration with the Whitney Museum Shop was a long time in the making and to be honest; it was really a blessing to be able to focus on during 2020 when so much of the work I was working on had to be cancelled, and there was so much space to be quiet and really dive into it.
I believe it's a beautiful exploration of how art, design, and product can be enhanced and work with one another to create accessible everyday experiences. I'm forever interested in the idea of the lines between art and product and how we can use 'product' as a medium to bring art and meaningful messages into people's homes and spaces.
Your New/Now retrospective is still running at the New Britain Museum of American Art into 2021. How was this milestone for you?
It's my third museum show, but my first retrospective looks back on the work I've already created while looking into the future and how my work can continue to grow. I'm also really honoured to be a part of the New Britan Museum of American Art's initiative to champion work by female artists, and I'm so grateful to be able to work with the team there. In a year that saw so many shifts in the museum landscape, NBMAA is a wonderful example of how institutions can really support artists.
You released your first monograph in 2020, LINES, another milestone.
It's a huge achievement, and I feel a little sad or disappointed that my US and UK launches were cancelled due to Covid-19 so I couldn't really celebrate it with my family and friends in person. But I'm also delighted and thankful that there's this thing that anyone can pick up and learn about me and my work.
What's coming up in 2021?
I'm really excited to continue to challenge myself and work in other industries. This year I'll be working with the Boston Ballet where I'll be choreographing my own ballet. I've also been working on my own typeface, Shantell Sans, which will debut next year and be available as an open-source font.
Do you want to return and do more in the UK this year?
I'd love to do more work in the UK since it's my home country. It's always a little surprising to me that I've not done more work there yet. I'd love to do a show in London and welcome the opportunity to spend more time there. I love how colourful, playful, well-designed and organised London is.
What music is really inspiring you right now?
I've been listening to a lot of ambient and electronic, music that I can empty my brain to and draw with. But I also always have on repeat Yaz and '80's/'90's British Pop which always makes me smile.
I ask interviewees to suggest a question for other creatives I chat to. So, here's one from John Larigakis: What TV shows did you watch as a kid? Do you think that has had any influence on your creative work or your creative style?
I actually watched many cartoons as a child, and that was my first introduction to art. I didn't know you could be an artist, or what art was, so I just thought that I wanted to make cartoons.
I would definitely say that cartoons influenced my desire to make work that is accessible to everyone. Off the top of my head, some non-cartoon TV shows that have made an impression on me that I still think about today as an adult, Knightmare, Fun House, Chucklevision, How2, and Round The Twist, they were really delving into imagination. They were ahead of their time in many ways.
Finally, what interesting question can I ask the next creative I interview?
Without saying how you are, what you do, where you come from, or any of the labels/roles you play in life, who are you?