Interview: Artist Shantell Martin Discusses the Power of a Single Line and Why Positivity Is Her Biggest Inspiration
Shantell Martin has been exploring the magic in a single line since childhood, working primarily in black-and-white to inscribe walls, canvases, and other objects with abstracted faces and affirmational text. In a new interview supported by Colossal Members, managing editor Grace Ebert spoke with Martin about the vast potential of that seemingly minimal form, the joy and fun of collaborating for the sake of collaborating, and her unwavering approach to positive thinking.
I’ve been on this journey, trying to make a recognizable line. What if my line becomes so recognizable that it’s one of the most recognizable artist lines on the planet? ? There’s something so profound about that because literally, we can all make those marks… The foundation of a line is something that’s represented in architecture, design, and in fashion. You can build upon it and imagine upon it in any way that you choose to.
Inviting, accessible, and universally relevant, her monochromatic drawings are prompts for the viewer: Who are you? Are you you? She continually asks for introspection, for better articulating our positions in the world, and for questioning the structures around us, a practice she mirrors in her own life and work. In this conversation, Martin recounts her early career in Japan, shares how she’s cultivated an intense ability to focus, and explains why challenge is the impetus for many of her new projects.
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Within the luscious pink acrylic that composes Yvette Mayorga’s Surveillance Locket series, messages of joy and nostalgia for a 90s childhood coexist with critiques of consumerism and gendered labor. The Chicago-based artist uses tools like piping bags and tips to apply paint in peaks, curls, and scalloped edges evocative of an elaborately decorated cake. She builds each relief layer by layer, drawing on techniques she gleans from baking shows and Instagram tutorials. “Cake decorating is a true craft that is super laborious,” she says.
This sense of labor permeates Mayorga’s body of work and provides a conceptual framework that’s as subversive as it is celebratory: “The color pink holds so much weight that is tied to fragility and prescribed to femme identity and gender norms. Piping and baking labor is also very gendered and constitutes a perceived notion of labor,” she says. “I am saying that pink and baking labor is powerful. The hyper femme is powerful.”
Alongside fields of ornate textures, the artist also uses the tactile material to define labyrinth-like playhouses, which reference the small, plastic clamshells called Polly Pockets. “It’s a toy that I always dreamed of owning,” she tells Colossal. “To me, it’s a marker of attaining an Americaness that as a child of immigrants is often sometimes forced upon us in order to fit in.” Mayorga’s iterations include recreations of her childhood home alongside gilded rooms, staircases, and Rococo-style flourishes she admired while spending her childhood summers in west-central Jalisco and Zacatecas, Mexico. More modern emblems like cartoon-style characters and the televisions she used to watch MTV and Looney Tunes, alongside frames showcasing art historical works and selfies, complete the decadent mansions.
Beyond their idiosyncratic and playful reflections, though, Mayorga’s works contain more ominous messages. She stations toy soldiers in entries and underneath staircases, shrouding the works with “a feeling of an impending doom” as the concealed characters surveil the scenes in a nod to patrols at the U.S./Mexico border. “My practice is a compounding of these two worlds coming together to create surrealist landscapes that are about the pink, decadent, playful, real-time, nostalgic, art historical, surveillance, and consumerism. To me, the decadence becomes the surrealist in-between space that marks my identity, because it is imagined and an aspiration,” she shares.
You have multiple chances to see Mayorga’s dioramas in person this year: in April, she’ll be at EXPO Chicago, in a group show in Hong Kong this fall, and will open a solo show at Crystal Bridges The Momentary in October. A commissioned work will also be installed in O’Hare’s Terminal Five at the end of the year. See more of her works on her site and Instagram. (via It’s Nice That)
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Lee Sangsoo (previously) bends angular strips of metal into coiled bellies and long, curled tails that form the bodies of his colorful creatures. The Seoul-based artist is known for his minimal sculptures in stainless steel that mimic line drawings in three dimensions. Shaped with as few metal components as possible and painted in subtle gradients or fantastical hues, Lee’s animals range from a pair of cats and a parrot on a perch to deer and flamingos, all of which exude energy and vitality.
The artist has a solo exhibition in Singapore slated for July, and you can see more of his process, which starts with digital renderings before he shapes the final forms, on Instagram.
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Within the confines of a coin, Bryanna Marie paints quaint cabins, idyllic landscapes, and whimsical mushrooms with spotted caps. The Tucson-based artist’s fascination with miniature canvases started back in 2014 when she painted a 3 x 3-inch piece, and she’s since gravitated toward smaller spaces, ending up with the 1-inch diameters of pennies and other currencies. Rendered in oil paint, each work corresponds to the coin’s origin. “For instance, I’ll use an Irish penny for their rolling hills, or a Euro to paint my trips to France,” she shares.
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Back in 2017, designer Roy Scholten and collaborator Martijn van der Blom brought LEGO into their letterpress workshops for elementary school students. Small and accessible to most, the ubiquitous plastic bricks were easier and faster to use than traditional lead type and were familiar creative tools for many of the children. Around the same time, the pair also developed a series of LEGO dinosaur prints in subtle gradients, an early collection that inspired Scholten’s ongoing project using the unusual material.
From his studio in Hilversum, Scholten forms dozens of winged creatures found in The Netherlands as part of 50 Birds. The 6 x 6-inch designs adeptly arrange the rigid blocks into beaks and round bellies with small lines of white left between. He describes his process:
Creating a design starts with establishing the outline, the total shape, and posture of the bird in question. Once that puzzle is solved, that construction is then divided up again into three to six different “lego stamps”, one for each color. Each stamp gets printed in the right order so that the combination results in the finished design.
Scholten releases 20 editions of each work, and keep an eye on Instagram for his upcoming renditions of the kingfisher, jay, dunnock, blue-headed wagtail, and the odd duck. If you’re in the area, he also offers weekly letterpress and monoprinting workshops at Grafisch Atelier Hilversum. You also might enjoy these LEGO typeface studies. (via Present&Correct)
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Artist Amy Genser translates gnarled roots, coral reefs, and other organic forms into expansive, abstract topographies. Her primary material is mulberry paper rolled into tight cylinders, which she nestles into colorful masses that trail into seas of acrylic paint. Whether on canvas, PVC, or another base, the dense compositions sprawl in every direction and peek over the edges in small ridges.
After moving to a larger studio space in Hartford, Connecticut, about four years ago, Genser has expanded the scale of her works, which previously were confined to smaller canvases. Recent projects include wall sculptures spanning multiple feet, free-standing pieces, and a site-specific installation titled “Shifting,” which just opened at Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, Massachusetts—see photos of the artist’s process behind the massive work on her Instagram.
No matter the scale or form, each piece speaks to the climate crisis and uses the small, dyed coils to draw “attention to the beauty of our natural world,” she tells Colossal.
There is an inextricable link between my art and environmentalism. I am inspired by our earth and solar system and use natural materials in my work. I primarily use mulberry paper, which is created from the regenerative branches of a mulberry tree. I have a hard time justifying the use of materials with trying to conserve our natural resources. I’m adding new material into the work, more “stuff.” I try to minimize my use of unnatural materials.
For more of Genser’s intricate structures, explore her extensive portfolio.
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