Shantell Martin has managed to carve out a unique style and voice in the contemporary art world. Her mastery of the spontaneous hand-drawn line has captivated an audience of international patrons, admirers, and collectors alike. Her art is exhibited and sought after by many top museums, galleries, and art spaces such as the Whitney Museum Shop in NYC; the Oculus, World Trade Center, NYC; Governor’s Island, NYC; Denver Museum of Art and a collaboration with the Pulitzer-Prize winning musician Kendrick Lamar. She has worked with brands as varied as Google Creative Labs, The North Face, and B&B Italia.
Below is our interview with the groundbreaking multimedia artist and philosopher.
What is your biggest piece of advice to artists who are struggling with the business side of their practice?
There are plenty of resources out there these days. Identify the things you’re struggling with, put them on a list, and then try to find people/resources to fill in those gaps and answer some of those questions. Speak with other artists. Someone told me a long time ago, “Shantell, if you want to be successful, it’s like a cocktail of understanding your strengths and weaknesses and getting a little better at them. Me, I imagine if I owned a coffee shop, I would want to know what it’s like to work at the register, barista, sweep the floor, and the accounting – I think it’s essential to have general knowledge of every part of your career/practice. for me that method includes taxes, insurance, liabilities, shipping and handling, legal paperwork, lighting, documenting, copywriting, all those things.
How do you compare being an artist and running a company?
It’s the same. In this day and age, unless you are incredibly privileged. We disadvantage artists when we separate them by saying they’re a business. We have the same responsibilities and liabilities as a company. Therefore, we are a company.
What is the best lesson you’ve learned in business?
As an artist, the biggest lesson you learn is that people will constantly want to exploit and take advantage of you. Therefore, it’s on you to get educated and learn from those experiences.
You are an expert at collaborations. How do you choose who to partner with?
Over the years, I’ve developed a filter and list to sort through what will be a good match. Some of those things are:
- Does this partner ethically and morally align with where I’m coming from?
- Is this something that will challenge me?
- Is this something that I am not able to make by myself?
- Is this something that will help me reach new audiences?
- Is it a partnership where there is an equal value of time and skill?
- Do I have the time and bandwidth to take this on?
You do not exhibit with galleries much. You seem to be breaking the mold for artists. Can you explain this?
I like to work across different mediums and industries, and I’ve never really agreed with the 50/50 split for an artist, which is usually how it goes in a gallery. When an artist has to pay the 50% commission, it undermines their own expenses (studio rent, taxes) and their time. It doesn’t really support the longevity of the art and artist. I’ve been very selective with galleries, and only want to work with those willing to shift the needle toward the artist.
You sell works directly to the consumer. Do you have advice on this for other artists?
For me, it’s been pretty organic. A priority of mine is organizing and archiving the work. I like meeting people organically, and sales go from there. I do have a shop on my website, which is self-running.
You have evolved from an artist to a philosopher. How does your philosophical perspective change your art?
Underlining my art, there’s always been a philosophical foundation. However, utilizing the title of philosopher gives me more room to explore different mediums and ideas.
How did your line lead you to LA?
The weather. I wanted to experience better weather than in NY. Ironically, there is a blizzard in LA this week…
You opened a studio in LA. How does LA influence your work?
I think it’s given me the space to explore my live performances so far. And it’s also permitted me to relax a lot more and be outside.
How is your studio practice different in LA from NY?
In LA, there’s more space. I can breathe. Socially, I feel it’s the same, and there aren’t many significant differences.