Big on immersive and transportable art, Shantell Martin has made it easy for fans to lounge around on one of her designs this summer. The New York-based artist has designed a beach towel for amFAR that will be available via its Web site and exclusively through Scoop starting June 8. All proceeds from her $40 creation will support the group’s research aimed at finding a cure for HIV and AIDS.
Reached in her TriBeCa studio Tuesday, Martin, whose portfolio includes work for Nike, Converse and Vitra, said, “I work with a lot of different companies and organizations. But what amFAR is doing by trying to end AIDS by 2020, that’s so epic. And it’s definitely something I am proud to be a part of.”
The way she tells it, her philosophy is aligned with amFAR’s, as an artist who started out handing out stickers carrying one of three messages, “Who Are You?” “You Are You?” and “Are You You?” After relocating to New York from Tokyo about seven years ago, the transition made her feel pulled in so many different directions that she wrote, “Who Are You?” 100 times on the back of her bedroom door to remind herself to question, ‘Who am I?’ ‘Am I being me?’ ‘Am I on my direct path?'” Martin said. “I still think that can be a hard thing to do, when you are trying to do art and to make money.”
After eyeballing all those lines of “Who Are You,” Martin said the first letter of each word jumped out at her as “W-A-Y,” she realized, as in finding her way was what she was really after. That purposefulness is part of amFAR’s mission too, she said.
Aside from teaching at New York University and serving as a visiting scholar at the Media Lab at MIT, Martin has other projects on deck. Having worked as a VJ in Tokyo during the five years she lived there, Martin will be using some of those skills at this weekend’s Digital Graffiti, an annual mash-up of underground artists, filmmakers and other creative types from around the globe who descend on Alys Beach, Fla. Located between Destin and Panama City, Fla., the event’s location, with its Bermuda-inspired architecture, may seem like a disconnect, but the whole community comes together for the live performances. “You would think you would find something like this in Tokyo or New York, but it’s a very interesting view,” she said of the practice of drawing by hand or on a tablet and then projecting those images on a wall, screens or people in a club.
“As people are dancing, you’re drawing, zooming in, zooming out, you see a friend and write their name. It brings people together and there are always a lot of people around,” she said. “When you go out in New York, people expect music, alcohol and table service. In Japan, they also want to see something visual, animation and live.
“Japan has a huge VJ culture,” she added. “It’s very spontaneous and very freeing because you don’t know what the music, the set or the crowd will be like. But underneath that, I have a process about the way I draw.”
Martin has also teamed up with Slow Factory’s Celine Semaan Vernon to design a silk-screened scarf inspired by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic book “The Little Prince,” which has sold 145 million copies. The timing is meant to meld with director Mark Osborne’s $80 million animated adaptation about the novella, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last month.
Martin will continue to collaborate with B+N, as she created the live-drawn installation for Global Shop and ICFF. She is brainstorming with the Affordable Art Fair about creating an immersive experience, a living room-type setting where visitors can watch her live projected drawings or become part of one.
She has also created limited-edition bicycles, drawn to order, through a deal with Martone Cycling Co. and Artspace. Martin recently loaned one of her bikes to friends like Opening Ceremony’s Will Thompson, the Guggenheim’s Jia Jia Fei and the Wythe Hotel’s Kimia Ferdowsi Kline for a day, so that they could pedal to their favorite New York places. With the customized wheels carrying a $3,800 price tag, Martin avoids locking hers up outdoors. “Usually, I will call ahead to say that I’m bringing my bicycle and to see if there is a place to keep it indoors,” she said. “I guess the upside is, if someone did steal it, I might be able to get it back, because people will know it’s mine.”