Credit: Supplied / Shantell Martin

If you don’t know the name Shantell Martin, then its quite possible you’re still aware of her captivating line drawings seen on everything from billboards, in galleries and in collaboration with some of the world’s biggest brands and creatives including Kendrick Lamar for Miami Art Basel, Kelly Wearstler, Max Mara and Tiffany & Co. Martin has had an interest in visual arts from an early age and since leaving high school has created her own world that bridges fine art, performance art, technology and the everyday experience: conversations, objects and places. Underlying Martin’s work is a quest for identity — her own, discovered and refined in the development of her characteristic style, and that of the viewer, engaged by Martin’s direct questioning and further explored in her winding lines.

As a London-born, New York-based artist, the 39 year-old has become a leader of LGBTQI+ activism and for the occasion of Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras this week, the creative has arrived Down Under  in partnership with Absolut Art. This February, the pair have joined forces to launch a pop-up exhibition at MCM House, a live light performance at Icebergs Dining Room and Bar and a talk in conversation with Martin and interdisciplinary Australian artist Brook Andrew during the forthcoming week.

Credit: Manolo Campion

In the lead up to her appearance, ICON caught up with the artist for insight into her formidable and iconic design ethos, and why looking within is the most important source of inspiration.

ICON: Tell me about your upbringing. What drew you to art?

Shantell Martin: “I grew up in a council estate in South East London, so you can imagine that it wasn’t the easiest environment to grow up in, drawing was something I did to process what was going on inside me and a way to escape.”

Your work is best recognised through its black-and-white line drawings. What initially sparked this aesthetic?

SM: “It was something that came through the process of exploring my craft and my process. I’ve always worked with colour, and still do sometimes, but the subtlety of where I’ve arrived with working in black and white is what enables me to explore the complexities of life and why I think it’s been so impactful.”

Think Drink Blink 2017 / Credit: Supplied / Shantell Martin
Where do you look for inspiration?

SM: “Inside. There’s this misconception that one has to look outside for inspiration but especially now with all the distractions we have from social media to world events, I think it’s even more important to look inside and really explore one’s self.”

Following your studies, you moved to Japan. What was the biggest lesson from that experience?

SM: “In Japan you perfect your craft over generations, and the discipline and collective principle of taking time to dedicate to your work… that was an invaluable lesson to learn.”

How do you think your work would have changed if you stayed in the UK?

SM: “I’m not too sure, I don’t think culturally staying in the UK at the time would have benefited me in the same way.”

Credit: Manolo Campion
What was the dynamic like when working with Kendrick Lamar for Art Basel?

SM: “Completely collaborative and an exploration of how mediums can be different but the way you can come together with other artists to create is truly valuable.

If you were to have dinner with one fellow artist, living or dead, who would it be and why?

SM: “Gene Wilder. I was obsessed with Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory as a child and he’s an incredible artist who worked on so many levels as a performer, director, producer, so it would be amazing to sit down with him.”

You’ll be in Sydney for a pop-up exhibition in partnership with Absolut Art for Mardi Gras. What do you hope people take from your work?

SM: “I hope that my work inspires people to smile and feel something positive while also inspiring them to explore deeply personal ideas and questions that they can take with them into their daily lives.”

What Are You, 2013 / Credit: Supplied / Shantell Martin
If you were to create a single A4 piece on the concept of tolerance, what key motifs would you include?

SM: “My work is very spontaneous so it’s a bit hard to answer this question. I’m also not comfortable thinking about tolerance in respect or context to human rights.
I’m not sure tolerance and acceptance are as important as exploring kindness, empathy and understanding and the first step one can take to explore those things is by exploring it within themselves. Are you being kind to yourself? Are you being empathetic to yourself? Do you know yourself so that you can understand yourself? How can we give these things to others if we aren’t giving them to ourselves?”

For more information on the upcoming events, scroll below. To purchase prints from the partnership, visit here.


WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2020 6.30PM / 107 Project, 107 Redfern St, Redfern Shantell Martin in conversation with Sydney Biennale artistic director Brook Andrew.

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 27 – THURSDAY, MARCH 5, 2020 / MCM House, 16-20 Oxford St, Paddington, Sydney VIP Opening Reception: Thursday, February 27, 6-8PM
A pop-up exhibition displaying Shantell Martin exclusive prints.

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 2020 7PM / Icebergs Dining Room and Bar, 1 Notts Ave, Bondi
A live light illustration session by Shantell Martin at the iconic Bondi venue with panoramic ocean- front views.