“I think for many of us, creativity is there early on in our lives,” says globetrotting artist Shantell Martin, who was born in the UK, made her name as a VJ in Tokyo, and then relocated to New York to build her creative career in the US – where she’s known for her distinctive black and white line style, often created using marker pens.
“For myself, as a young kid that was drawing just like everyone else, I didn’t know it was art,” says Martin. “I was never encouraged to do it, but it felt good when I did it. And I think when you don’t have much control over your environment, you’re going to lean into the things that you have control over. Picking up a pen or pencil, drawing on paper, and creating characters, worlds or stories was something that I could get lost in, something I could have control of.”
Now an established name – having been the subject of several exhibitions and collaborations with adidas, the North Face and Kendrick Lamar – Martin’s able to look back on her early efforts and understand how she used creativity as “a tool to express, to extract and deal with my environment that I was in”. An early character she created, a stick figure robot called Hangman with an “upside-down smile” and visible heart, speaks to some of the anger and inner turmoil she felt as a young person.