New York City Ballet collaborates with British visual artist Shantell Martin to transform Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater into a massive installation of Martin’s trademark stream-of-consciousness drawings.
“WHO ARE YOU?” This is the looming signature question that Shantell Martin poses to her viewers on the windows of the New York City Ballet’s David H. Koch Theater. From her early beginnings with live performance drawings to sound, music and dance projected digitally in the mega clubs of Tokyo, the young London-born New York based artist most recently collaborated with the NYCB Art Series and transformed Lincoln Center into an immersive art installation of free-flowing, curving inky-black lines, squiggles, words, and child-like characters stick figures, viscerally inviting the audience to engage with her large scale black-and-white illustrations inspired by the ballet’s art of movement. Her installation follows seven years of the NYCB’s long, storied history of collaborating with visual artists, including luminaries like Jasper Johns, Keith Haring, and Julian Schnabel.
In preparation for the exhibition, Martin was inspired by interviews with the NYC ballet dancers and worked onsite while observing rehearsals, allowing the experience of the dancers to inspire and guide her pen, working with dancers Lauren Lovette and Daniel Applebaum to create a visual counterpiece for her NYCB takeover.
Aside from her studio practice and numerous public installations, Shantell serves as an adjunct professor at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, and is a visiting scholar at the MIT Media Lab. Her work has been seen in shows at the Brooklyn Museum, Museum of the Moving Image, the Albright-Knox Museum, the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, and in a 75-minute performance with Kendrick Lamar in 2016 during Art Basel Miami. Along with exhibitions and commission for museums and galleries, Martin frequently works on international commercial projects and high-profile collaborations with fashion brands, shoe-makers, and scientists.
Most recently, Martin began a partnership with United Airlines, launching the “Her Art Here” competition where women artists of all backgrounds are being invited to submit their work to the contest, with judges (including Martin) picking a winner that will be given the opportunity to have their work seen from the sky on a plane provided to use as a canvas.
Tell us how you got started in art.
I’ve always drawn from a very early age – just like all of us, so I can’t exactly trace when I got started but I can say that I began to take art seriously when I decided to go to school for it, however it was not until years later, when I wasn’t in school but living in Japan and teaching English that I began to pursue it as a career.
Describe your art in 3 words.
Intuitive/Inquisitive. Spontaneous. Playful.
Your work has been described as “stream of consciousness” drawings. What does this mean to you?
It means a mix of things. But I think that touches on the big aspect of my work which is that a lot of it is done live which is really important to me because it forces me to be present. To be really in the moment with my work and the environment and with that intention I’m able to ask a lot of different questions that I think a lot of us share about life, existence, purpose, etc.
“Connecting with someone who is invested in sharing knowledge and helping you to succeed is an incredible asset. I think especially for young artists it can be life changing because there really isn't guidebook for how to successful in the real world...” —Shantell Martin
Tell us about your recent collaboration with the New York City Ballet.
I feel so fortunate to have been able to do this collaboration. The New York City Ballet has a very beautiful history of stepping outside of the norm and really pushing boundaries. The foundation of the collaboration was my interviews with many of the dancers, of all different ages and backgrounds who all share this incredible passion for dance and movement. The way that I was able to incorporate them into my work I think in the end is what was the most rewarding part of my experience.
What does your concept “WHO ARE YOU” mean to you?
It’s a question I ask myself daily, almost like a mirror that I’m looking into to make sure I’m being true to myself. I’m being honest, and that pursuit of complete authenticity is how I’m able to navigate through my experiences in this world.
Tell us about the “Her Art Here” competition with United Airlines.
I’m extremely honored to be a part of this. I didn’t know it before I began the process of working with United Airlines on this, but they have the most women pilots than any other airline. To celebrate this, there’s a competition, and the two winning women-identifying artists have a chance to win some amazing prizes including having their work on one of my dream canvases – a Boeing 757!
If your drawings could speak, what would they say?
They do speak and what I love is hearing how different people perceive them.
Why is mentorship important for young artists?
I think it’s a very important thing and not just for artists. Connecting with someone who is invested in sharing knowledge and helping you to succeed is an incredible asset. I think especially for young artists it can be life changing because there really isn’t guidebook for how to successful in the real world so to find mentors that are knowledgeable in many different fields not just in art, but finance, tech, etc…. it’s like adding tools to your toolbox so that you can truly be independent while being creative.
What is one piece of advice you would give your younger self?
Be consistent. Be patient. Enjoy life because all your experiences feed your work.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
Life is like a wave, when you’re up ride it all the way down and when you’re down use it as a time to regroup, think and enjoy the quiet.
What else should we expect from you in 2019?
Keep an eye out for me on Governors Island this Spring/Summer. I’m also doing a project at the Denver Art Museum in October.