"A conversation with Shantell Martin..."

Written by Camille Okhio.

WHO ARE YOU
YOU ARE YOU

When someone sits down and starts absentmindedly doodling, they’re generally doing it out of boredom. A distraction from something else, the doodle is a manifestation of a half baked thought, with no real direction or self contained purpose. It is perhaps a pleasant, but soulless product of a divided moment. What Shantell Martin creates is not remotely related to the doodle. She creates with a clear mind, focused on the moment and the journey. She draws from her many experiences and aspirations and creates a narrative that is communicative not only in its culmination but in the process of its creation. By allowing her audience to not only view her “finished” work, but her quite personal process of creation, Martin invites her audience to take part in a much more inclusive artistic experience, both in its making and in its consideration.

Viewing Martin’s work is exceptionally calming. Her work encourages the viewer to follow her visual narrative, and hence her subconscious. Shantell even says “drawing is like meditating.” Her mind is completely clear when she creates art and you can see this in the finished product. You can even see this while she is creating her work. She channels out the chaos around her in order to focus on creating an honest and immediate story. Nothing is pre-formed, hypothesized or planned. Rare for an artist of any time. Preparatory sketches and references seem almost necessary in this age of artistic appropriation and

The really beautiful thing about Shantell Martin is that she is so at peace with herself. She notes the concerning reality of many people just not liking themselves. For her, that’s where the hard work comes in. She puts a lot into enjoying, caring and liking herself. And it shows. Both in her person and in her work. She does not pass a day without asking herself if she is being true to herself and if she is on the right path. We ask her about her “work” and she responds with a … of the word work. “People like to talk about the word work. Life, art, work is all the same. I live to become a better individual.” And that is all.

She is somehow both elusive and straightforward with a discussion of her art. She does not give both in its making and in its consideration. Viewing Martin’s work is exceptionally calming. Her work encourages the viewer to follow her visual narrative, and hence her subconscious. Shantell even says “drawing is like meditating.” Her mind is completely clear when she creates art and you can see this in the finished product. You can even see this while she is creating her work. She channels out the chaos around her in order to focus on creating an honest and immediate story. Nothing is pre-formed, hypothesized or planned. Rare for an artist of any time. Preparatory sketches and references seem almost necessary in this age of artistic appropriation and

the really beautiful thing about Shantell Martin, is that she is so at peace with herself. She notes the concerning reality of many people just not liking themselves. For her, that’s where the hard work comes in. She puts a lot into enjoying, caring and liking herself. And it shows. Both in her person and in her work. She does not pass a day without asking herself if she is being true to herself and if she is on the right path. We ask her about her “work” and she responds with a … of the word work. “People like to talk about the word work. Life, art, work is all the same. I live to become a better individual.” And that is all.

On instructions with her art. They don’t need a play by play. They don’t need an explanation. “I’m not telling you where to start with my drawings and I’m not telling you what my drawings mean.” When asked to explain her work or place it she graciously refuses. Instead, she presents the observation that difference divides. As creatives, we may think difference is beautiful, but in the scope of the world difference is what keeps some people above and some people below. As an example, Martin quotes the class system that is so firmly implanted in the UK. You know everything about someone the moment they open their mouth. This system even plays a role in the economics and structure of the country. The US is different as we do not have as old of a class system as the UK, however we still manage to maintain institutional prejudice. Martin is hopeful that in the future these barriers will start to fade, but expects people to hold on to them as long as possible, out of fear. Once this fear is surmounted, then creative expression will be able to flow unbridled from societal restraints.

In conclusion, I will leave you with a few of the most poignant of Martin’s words: “I live for experiences. I live for connections. People want you to label yourself. I don’t have to be who you think I am. I can just simply be me.”

Camille Okhio is Senior Arts writer for By Such and Such.