Shantell Martin on the rocky road to becoming an artist

From Thamesmead to Tokyo and New York, Shantell Martin has taken her line-drawn style around the world – but it’s been a bumpy journey. As she sets her sights back on the UK she chats with CR about how art became a tool to “express, extract and deal”

“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.

Top image: by Theo Coulombe; Above: Live VJ sets performed in Tokyo