Shantell Martin exemplifies power of collaboration

Shantell Martin (b. 1980; Thamesmead, London, England) believes so strongly in the power and potential of collaboration for artists that she’s somehow managed to find time in her schedule of art making, gallery and museum shows, brand partnerships, speeches, performances and NFT drops to develop an Artist-In-Residence program equipping other creatives to benefit from them. The project is a collaboration, of course.

Few artists have more completely incorporated partnerships and collaborations into their practice than Martin. Her instantly recognizable drawn line and text – black and white, whimsical, often filling massive walls and courtyards with poignant messages – have been thoughtfully paired with artists, brands and cultural institutions such as Kendrick Lamar, the New York City Ballet, the Boston Ballet, Tiffany & Co., Nike, The North Face, Ralph Lauren, Max Mara and Vespa. To name only a few.

The latest example of Martin working together to produce exceptional results comes by way of recently released NFT created with her longtime collaborator Ben Sheppee. The pair’s third NFT drop, “Lapidarist,” took place on June 3rd. A lapidarist is someone who cuts, polishes or engraves gems or a dealer in precious or semiprecious stones.

‘Lapidarist’ NFT, 2022. Art & Original Music by Shantell Martin. 3D design and Animation Ben Sheppee.
Max Bucksbaum – Nifty Gateway.

“Lapidarist” deconstructs and transforms solid or valid entities. The three-dimensional nature of the now abstract structures, each of which floats aimlessly in space, contributes to their ambiguity as something imagined attempts to become something real. The three works are Absence (Sometimes we need to go away to know where it is we are from and want to go), Presence (Be present, you exist, you are here), and Transience (Make the most of this day, this year, this life).

“I love that it allows me the space to collaborate and work on the blockchain and create a provenance that is easy to find and see,” Martin told me of her interest in producing NFTs. “Right now, it’s allowing me to do many things, like revisiting digital art.”

Martin produced the art and original music for “Lapidarist” while Sheppee handled the 3D design and animation. The NFTs are available for purchase on

Viewers can experience elements of the NFTs through Augmented Reality by downloading the Adobe Aero AR App and visiting the following links from any Internet-connected mobile device:

Shantell Martin: Collaborator

Shantell Martin, New York City Ballet Installation, 2022. Photo New York Times.
Shantell Martin, New York City Ballet Installation, 2019. Photo New York Times.

When did Martin realize the power of collaboration?

“I’d say it’s always been a part of my work, but ultimately, I discovered it when I moved to Japan and started to do live analog and digital visuals in Japanese avant-garde spaces and clubs,” Martin said. “There was such a community of collaboration and collaborators from different musicians, artists and organizers. Everyone was very open and kind and excited to share.”

Martin takes that attitude into her Artist-In-Residence project, Critical Mass, developed in partnership with Critical Mass Global CCO Val Carlson. CM:AIR’s first area of focus seeks to address artist-brand exploitation by exploring equity in contract negotiations, intellectual property, and modeling new norms for creative collaboration.

Martin believes the art world has a “collaboration problem.” Advertising agencies don’t know how to work with artists. Artists aren’t sure of their rights. As a result, artists are often taken advantage of and brands made to look foolish – or worse – in their attempts to use the creativity of others for their corporate ends.

Martin was involved in a high-profile example of this when she was approached by Microsoft’s ad agency in 2020 to paint a Black Lives Matter mural while it was “still relevant.” Martin exposing this exploitative request on social media, her extended response, and Microsoft’s attempt at an apology made waves through the art, advertising, activist and media arenas about performative allyship.

Shantell Martin: Businesswoman

Shantell Martin from Albright-Knox Art Gallery exhibition 'Someday We Can,'  2017. Photo by Connie Tsang.
Shantell Martin from Albright-Knox Art Gallery exhibition ‘Someday We Can,’ 2017. Photo by Connie Tsang.

Her deft handling of this case, her residency program, her meaningful and stylish ongoing partnerships with the most prestigious brands around the world, her social media presence, her brilliant website – the very “Shantell Martin” brand she’s built around herself – all indicate that Martin, in addition to a first-rate artist, is also a first-rate businesswoman. Having a head for business is a skill Martin acknowledges is increasingly important for artists.

“Unless you come from privilege and have a lot of access, it’s important as an artist that you are aware of all the different areas of your business: you have to be organized and manage your taxes, read your contracts, incorporate a legal team, and be fairly sociable,” she explains. “In today’s age, it’s important for artists to be aware of all the other areas of their business being an artist. That’s just what it is.”

For creative types who prefer spending time in the studio, not at an office or on Zoom calls, this can be uncomfortable, unnatural even. Martin encourages artists to consider it an inseparable aspect of their practice.

“The thing is, I think art is more than just making art. Art is being thoughtful. Art is paying attention to design and art is paying attention to the details. It’s making sure that things make sense. All of (my partnerships and collaborations and projects) are an extension of the type of art that I make,” she said.

How does Martin juggle art making with managing all the other business and administrative facets of her career? Her first tip for artists is to make sure they’re getting good sleep, from there, “be organized and learn how to delegate tasks while still being aware of all the moving parts.”

Martin encourages artists not to shy away from being businesspeople.

“I think sometimes we put artists in a box that limits them from being other things, but I believe we can do lots of things and do them well,” she said.

The artist. The collaborator. The businesswoman. Shantell Martin continues expanding the definition of what each can achieve.

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