Brit artist Shantell Martin talks to us about the 'do less be more' way of life
Are you, you?
Shantell Martin and Puma are similar in more ways than one, but the most obvious trait is their penchant for choosing the best collaborators. Martin, a London-born, Brooklyn-based artist, is known for her black and white doodles and drawings that have attracted the likes of Tiffany & Co, 1800 Tequila, Kendrick Lamar and Puma themselves. Similarly, the sports brand has rubbed shoulders with musicians such as The Weeknd and Rihanna, as well as fashionistas such as Sophia Webster and more recently, MCM. Once a footwear brand easily associated with athletes, they now own the culture of cool by aligning themselves with street wear sensibilities.
Martin has her cast of quirky characters on Puma's items such as slides with black and white accents, as well as slip-ons and sneakers that inspire you to live your best and authentic life. Her language of lines also extends to a range of clothing. In Singapore to unveil her second drop in the Spring/Summer 2018 collection, the former VJ graced the opening of the new Puma Select store at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. After our quick 15-minute chat, Martin hands me a sticker of her own writing, "ARE YOU YOU", prompting me to do a self-examination after. But first, a peek into her process.
Streetwear's often credited for putting the cool back into sports brands. Do you often take inspiration from the street culture of Brooklyn into your work?
No, you just live your life and see what happens. I think it is hard to take inspiration. You live your life as a better human being and then you see what comes out, more so you extract inspiration.
You've talked about growing up biracial in a predominantly white neighbourhood in East London. How does your ethnic background influenced the way you approach art and the way you work?
By being mixed-race, already you're set up to have different opinions and outlooks just because you might look different or you might have grown up in different cultures. Sometimes you might grow up and be a bit mixed up and then you'll have to find your way and I think it was a little bit like that for me, where I wasn't sure of my culture, upbringing or where I should fit in. I think in a way that allowed me to try and find my own path.
Art was sort of accidental for you, wasn't it? You've mentioned before that you didn't set out to be an artist.
At first I didn't know art really existed and I did eventually end up going to art school at Central Saint Martins. But when I was younger, I wanted to be a runner. It's kind of funny that now my art is on sportswear.
Was Puma a brand that was familiar with you? Did you grow up knowing about it?
I grew up wanting to be a runner. Linford Christie wore Pumas, and a lot of the big British runners were wearing Pumas so I was familiar with them from that way. And also Puma suedes. I remember being a kid and all the older bigger kids, the cool ones were wearing Puma suedes.
How different are shoes and clothes as a canvas?
I see these canvases as a way of putting my art out into the world. I have these messages and questions that I want to share with the world and what better way to do it than on clothing or sneakers — because then people would literally carry your message out into the world.
Are you able to share what kind of messages they are? Because they are kind of hidden.
They're all kind of hidden, but you can kind of see one that says 'do less be more'. That basically means to do less of the things that distract you and as you do less of those things, you'll be more of yourself.
How do your live drawings depart from a regular canvas? Do you see it as performance art?
I think it is important for people to see art as a process because then they're more connected and it's more of an experience. I'm not really a performer but an artist, but if I draw it live, then I'm being honest. When you draw live, you don't have any time to go back or be anyone else or to be scared and hesitate. You're literally just putting yourself out there in the open and I think that is the most honest way you can make art.
Do you ever get shy?
Yeah totally. But you put yourself on a stage and you don't have time to get shy.
So, who are you at the core?
It's a question that we all struggle to answer. I found that it's a question that I struggle to answer so I, through my art, put this question out there in the hopes that people will help me answer it. Right now, I am this curious human being that is trying to figure out who they are at the core by asking the question out to the rest of the world. To answer your question, I don't know. But perhaps I have a chance of finding out by asking everyone and almost putting a mirror out there.