If you’ve visited the newly reinvented 7th floor of our NYC headquarters this week, you’ve probably noticed the bold black-and-white artwork that has been hand-drawn in the elevator bank and along the hallways leading to our brand new Wellness Studio, our shiny new Print Lounge and of course the Lodge, our steadfast cafeteria. The work was done at the hand of one Shantell Martin, an artist known for her stream-of-consciousness drawings across unconventional canvases — from walls to cars, faces and more.
We chatted with Shantell to learn more about the project and what she hoped to bring to this heavily trafficked common space. She told us that the message running through this particular work is all about individuals coming together to be better, healthier, more positive, and then collectively building something greater. What a lovely message to walk by every day. You can watch this super cool time-lapsed video of her working on the 7th floor (courtesy of Scratch), above, and read our full conversation, below.
Tell us about your work.
Shantell Martin: My work’s gone through different stages. I moved to Tokyo in 2003 after I finished art school in London. I basically became a VJ, a visual jockey, meaning that I did live drawn visuals – sometimes analog, sometimes digital – to DJs and dances and musicians. I created everything in real-time and then it was projected under a camcorder. I guess that was one phase of my work – very colorful. Then I moved to New York in 2008 and I kind of de-evolved in a way – the tech and venues they have in Tokyo they don’t have in NYC. I picked up pens and you can see the style that is more recognizable, which is bigger, blacker, bolder lines. I came up with this line of drawing on everything – that’s what I do: I draw on cars and walls and people and shoes. Moving here people want to put me in a box – “what’s your medium?” Everything is my medium. I’m in a phase where I’m starting to blend the two [phases] a little bit – I’m learning animation, combining the digital stuff with the analog.
What about your process?
SM: The theme or way that I work is very spontaneous and intuitive. I never know what the final piece will look like. With the process, sometimes I’ll have keywords or images that I’ll think about when I’m drawing the piece, but the piece comes together through the action of doing it. I read off the atmosphere of the space or music I’m listening to. When I start a drawing, I see the canvas – be it a car or a wall or a face – as a place for lots of possibilities and I start to execute that by creating a really long line, almost like a skeleton or a foundation, which initially fills up the space. Then I’ll step back and look for shapes or lines that remind me of other things – for example if there’s a very smooth, round shape, that might look like the side of a face. And then if that’s the case I’ll draw a nose and a mouth and eyes. It’s sort of like a language or a crossword puzzle in a way; I put down the skeleton or the foundation and then I am equipped to fill in the missing pieces. And one thing leads to another.
What spoke to you about this project, Viacom’s 7th floor, and what was your thinking behind this project specifically? What were you trying to bring to the floor?
SM: The space is great there. It’s not often that your canvas is around elevator doors, doors, along a hallway. The interesting space allowed me to have that movement that I like when creating a piece – like jumping from one wall to another wall to another wall. And then the concept of the 7th floor is really great: it’s basically a floor where people will come down and meet people. It’s all about wellness and community and experience. And that’s what my work is about: creating an experience, a connection.
I had some key words when creating the piece – for example, some of the network names and some other words regarding the wellness center, the print lounge and the Lodge. I let them unfold naturally within the frame of the drawing. It was very fun. I was thinking about the energy of the space, about people walking through it and discovering new things every time they passed the drawing. It’s a platform for discovery. I’m looking forward to people walking through and then walking through a month later and saying “Oh, I didn’t see that little guy, or that message.” I think that’s really fun.
Is there one cohesive message running through your work on the 7th floor?
SM: There’s a section that says “be well, eat well, drink well, build clean wells” – and that’s all about individuals coming together to be better, more positive, healthier, and then collectively building something greater. I think that message comes through the piece as a whole.
Where do you find inspiration – in general, for your various projects and for this project specifically?
SM: As an artist, you get asked this question a lot and to be honest it changes as I change. Right now, I say the inspiration comes from me. Right now my goals are similar with what’s written on the wall there: to be a better person and a healthier person and a more compassionate person and a person who reacts in a positive way and a person who surrounds herself with positive people. The more I focus on those goals, the more I want to do what I love, which is drawing. I don’t think it can be the other way around – I don’t think I can draw, draw, draw and become a better person. If I focus on being a better person, then I inspire myself to do what I love to do. I think that’s true universally, whether you love to draw or crunch numbers or golf or do needlepoint.
You can learn more about Shantell on her website, or keep up with her on Instagram and Twitter @Shantell_Martin.