London-born artist Shantell Martin has been making black and white marks on the contemporary art world for a few years now, displaying her unmistakable line drawings at the Brooklyn Museum, Museum of the Contemporary African Diaspora, Bata Show Museum and at the Albright Knox Gallery, among others. She will be headed to Denver soon, spending four to six days starting October 16 to paint the sidewalks in the Denver Theatre District (DTD) with her distinctive style. This huge mural will last for two to three years, with the help of a protective coating and upkeep by the DTD. This is part of DTD’s Terra Firma— an immersive art project in partnership with NINE dot ARTS that started with Konstantin Dimopoulus’ Blue Trees this summer.
Denver will be the first place she will paint the ground and it will be her largest artwork to date, covering the sidewalks from 14th Street from Stout to Champa as well as the entire outdoor plaza of the Colorado Convention Center. Painting on unusual objects and places is normal for her and supplements her vision of combining art with how we interact with the world, rather than separating art from the everyday. In addition to the sidewalk mural, Martin will install a sculptural bench she designed that will say “DON’T HIDE + YOU ME” outside the Colorado Convention Center. Some of her previous work can be found on walls, found objects, sneakers, cars and circuit boards. To her, it matters less where she paints and more so how she does it. Starting with a freehanded outline, she allows the act of drawing to become a meditation. “My work is not about the result,” she explained in an interview with Interior Design, “it’s all one big mistake and we should learn to enjoy the process.”
Martin’s art is a freehanded collaboration of doodles and designs that pulls viewers in with familiarity, then keeps them hooked with a bizarre need to create their own story. Because each piece is relatively unplanned, Martin also goes on a journey with each of her pieces, finding a new thought pattern or idea with each line and dot she draws. It’s a stream-of-consciousness style of art that many people relate to because there is no requirement for understanding it.
Martin’s artwork is aesthetically simple—composed of black doodles on white backgrounds—but the simplicity of design allows her to more directly communicate with her audience. Her work is described on her website as “a language of characters that invite her viewers to share in her creative process” — an act that is done when the viewer must find their own way through the unique map of lines and drawings that have no obvious origin or destination. She calls her artworks a “quest for identity,” where fine art, doodles, performance art, technology and everyday conversations collide. Each of these characteristics allows viewers from all different backgrounds to appreciate and come away with their own understanding of one her pieces.
But Martin is not trying to be too vague about her designs. She has experience teaching as an adjunct professor and Artist-in-Residence at NYU’s ITP (Tisch School of the Arts), where she asks students to integrate drawing with technology, sometimes using code, cameras and music. In 2015, Martin worked at the MIT Media Lab as an Artist-in-Residence where she examined how to express art in conjunction with cross-disciplinary ideas, like creating drawings that visualized data. These experiences have helped shape Martin’s other artworks, teaching her how to use her creativity in more ways than galleries and museums offer, and giving her designs a mass appeal.
Martin is known for her appearances in front of live audiences, creating her pieces with freehanded strokes of big permanent markers while she explains the beauty of the process. When she is here painting in Denver, there will be a short window of time for admirers and other interested parties to stop by and see her work in real time. This is a novel opportunity to see her painting her largest piece yet. Updates about her progress in Denver will be on the Denver Theatre District’s website.