In a world where we're determined to maintain control, keeping a firm grip on our careers, relationships and self-presentation, Shantell Martin's work is refreshing and rebellious. Instead of considering stick figures juvenile, she embraces them, producing work that's devoid of self-consciousness. Much of this freedom she owes to her drawing style (known as stream of conscious), which doesn't allow her the time to filter, let alone censor, her ideas. Now, the London-born and New York-based artist is considered one the greatest of her generation, appearing in Brooklyn Museum, working alongside NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and joining the likes of Basquiat and Keith Haring to decorate a limited-edition capsule for 1800 Tequila as a part of their Essential Artists collaboration.
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Glass makes an "untraditional" canvas, Martin explains, but her process doesn't change. By placing pen to surface with no plan or practice, Martin claims inspiration flows as she goes. "I wanted to make sure what was on the bottle would subconsciously become the foundation of a conversation or serve as inspiration as they go out into the world." And Martin doesn't shy from the tough topics. Recurring in her work are the questions, "who are you?" and "are you you?", which she was prompted to ask herself after she "ran away" to Japan after she was told she would fail in her pursuit of art. "Don't apply to art school, because you won't get in," her teacher told her as a teen. Martin rebutted by graduating from London's prestigious Central Saint Martins with honors. Ever since she has not only fought to be taken seriously by the industry, but to do things her way, which has come with it's own set of challenges. "I wish I knew being an artist would be my future," she admits.
"When I was growing up, being an artist felt like something you had to work towards, like something you had to gain. No one is imagining a future for you, they don't care. They just imagine you're going to be a part of this cycle—you don't finish school, you drop out, you get pregnant very young, you get an apartment [in the projects] and so on. Why should they imagine something for you because they haven't done it for the last few generations?"
But Martin has shattered expectations, redefining what constitutes "art" and breaking down boundaries between audience and artist. Her "live art" sessions have become famous, in which she creates a stream of conscious drawing from scratch, in real-time, while delivering a lecture to the crowd. Throughout the performance, Martin subtly reveals our obsession with perfection and flips it on its head. "When you're drawing live you have no time to think, no time to hesitate. You have no time to be anyone else making what you create the most authentic expression of who you are."
Martin's commitment to authenticity is obvious throughout her creative output, and has garnered her the reputation for connecting the commercial and fine art worlds — seeing her collaborate with the world's biggest brands, from sportswear giant Puma, to legendary jewelry retailer Tiffany & Co. Her next step is to intersect music and art, explaining the former can "impact the foundation and DNA of [her] drawings and can be reflected in the lines themselves."
"Whether from a shoe, a large canvas or a tequila bottle, you are always questioning yourself," advises Martin. "Your potential and constantly putting yourself in a place to be honest and vulnerable to master who you are throughout your lifetime. That's what keeps me honest and true to always be myself."
Seems it's high time for us to release the reigns and give up control.
Check out Shantell Martin's Essential Artists collaboration below.
Images via Getty/courtesy of 1800 Tequila