Lines of Mars

Shantell Martin

Shantell Martin’s drawings have appeared on everything from Japanese nightclub stages — where she collaborated with noise musicians as a video jockey — to canvases, large-scale murals, cars, and apparel. With a meditative process defined by an uninhibited flow, her compositions embody her internal state and the impermanence of the world around her. Exploring themes of identity and intersectionality, Martin sees herself as a cultural facilitator, forging new connections between fine art, education, design, philosophy, and technology. Below the surface of her signature black and white line drawings is an artist’s playful, direct questioning of viewers, rearranging words such as “you,” “are,” and “who” to create new meanings and spark reflection.

Lines of Mars (2019), created by Martin for Midnight Moment, features her improvisational illustrations and text appearing and disappearing, line by line, on a black background. Drawn on a digital tablet, the work features many of Martin’s recurring motifs, including faces, stick figures, and “birds boats” over an ocean, interspersed with hand-written words. Continuing the artist’s exploration of self that runs throughout her work, Lines of Mars asks the age-old question “who are you?” Those three words are repeated and reconfigured to finally conclude that “you are you.” This encouragement to viewers to think individualistically both participates in and counters the mass-messaging of advertisements otherwise seen on the electronic billboards of Times Square.

“I wanted to create a piece that explored the use of lines and words in a simple way to ask a complicated question. Asking this in a place like Times Square helps the question grow.”

—Shantell Martin

Lines of Mars references multiple aspects of Times Square, including a staircase reminiscent of the Red Steps; “1904,” the year Times Square was named; and “12,” a reference to the end time of Midnight Moment or the beginning of a new year. Presented during the month of Love in Times Square, the work encourages viewers to understand, to be, and to love their true selves.  

Lines of Mars was arranged and formatted for Midnight Moment by Optical Animal.


In addition to prestigious solo shows at some of the most renowned art institutions including the 92Y Gallery in New York City, the iconic Albright Knox gallery and the MoCADA Museum, Shantell Martin (b. 1980, London, England) has carved a path for herself that is as much intellectual as visual artist. During her two-year tenure as a MIT Media Lab Visiting Scholar, Martin collaborated with the social computing group to use drawing as a medium to explore the interaction of social processes with physical spaces. A fashion and design icon in her own right, Martin has collaborated with iconic brands such as Nike, Vitra, Max Mara, and Tiffany & Co., and in 2018, Puma launched a global capsule collection featuring her drawings. Martin has collaborated with legendary artists such as Pulitzer Prize-winning performance artist Kendrick Lamar and acclaimed designer Kelly Wearstler. In late 2018, she was asked to collaborate with the prestigious New York City Ballet, where she created large scale drawings in the performance hall and foyer of Lincoln Center for the company’s celebrated Art Series. She continues to teach as an adjunct professor at NYU Tisch ITP (Interactive Telecommunications Program), where she works with her students to push the boundaries of storytelling, visual art and technology. Martin lives and works in New York City.

Optical Animal is a Brooklyn based digital arts collective, directing and producing works of new media, cinema, video art, and audio. Since 2008, Optical Animal has found a home in creating unique experiences that employ new ideas and technology, while remaining firmly rooted in the ancient human love for storytelling.


Photos courtesy of Ka-Man Tse for Times Square Arts.