It is hard not to crack a smile when you see Shantell Martin’s art. Her black and white squiggles are not just ordinary lines. As her pen flows freely across the page, these interconnected lines transform themselves into faces with individual expressions, moods, and features. Her work is mysterious, a commentary on every day interactions, a combination of characters, and different messages.
Martin brings many of her creations to life in front of a live audience. Back in 2019, when she was the resident artist at New York City Ballet’s Art Series I saw her in action drawing on stage. I wondered where Martin’s drawings were going and soon realized that she is just as much along for the doodle ride as I was. Martin is not afraid to move beyond museums and galleries to reach her audiences in new ways. She has figured out both how to scale up and down in size.
Her newest collaboration is with Hoek Home, a Red Hook-based furniture workshop and company that prides itself on sustainable, quick-assembly furniture. For Hoek Home, Martin has designed a playful home collection with her iconic pen, from coasters and coffee tables to wall art, to spread throughout any eco-conscious home. I sat down with Martin and Conor Coghlan, Co-Founder & CEO of Hoek, to speak about their work together and Hoek’s long-term plans to continue to invite artists to collaborate on their designs.
Alexandra Israel: How did the collaboration with Hoek begin?
Shantell Martin: Hoek came about after they sent me a DM on Instagram. They were kicking off a new campaign at the time, and the conversation grew from there eventually evolving into the idea of doing an artist residency. I am a big fan of what they are making and fabricating in Red Hook and was interested in learning a new skill. I thought this was the perfect opportunity to pick up some new tools, collaborate, and create.
AI: Hoek sets itself apart from many other affordable furniture/design companies not only for your focus on sustainability but also for your in-house production.
Conor Coghlan: We are very lucky to be able to design, build, and ship all of our products right from our warehouse in Brooklyn, New York and it means we are deeply involved in every step of the process. We only choose the best available materials and we design and manufacture in a way that focuses on the longevity of the product – something that many larger companies do not have the luxury of doing.
AI: I love the variety of home items that came out of the Shantell x Hoek collection, but the “Who Are You” desk mat really resonated with me (imposter syndrome is very real sometimes!). How did you decide on what pieces you wanted to make for the initial debut? What do you hope that consumers will take away from this collection?
SM: I will let Conor speak to this too, but from my end, I am a big advocate for people bringing art into their homes. Personally, I wanted to feature items that people might use every day. Such as a coaster where you might set your cup of tea down or a desk mat while you’re working at your computer. I like to use messages that work like seeds… messages that grow within people. I really liked the idea of combining art, design, and furniture in a way that all of these things together help to play a role in someone’s everyday life. I think there are a lot of benefits that come with that.
CC: When Shantell came to our studio in Brooklyn over a year ago, we purposely had no set agenda but instead wanted to experiment with materials and new ways of using the technology and machinery that we have at our disposal. What came out of that time was a series of playful experiments that we slowly honed into useful items over the course of several months of back and forth. In our own small way, we wanted to make the world a happier more thoughtful place and we hope that this collection can bring joy and curiosity into the homes of many people.
AI: The onset of the pandemic made people really realize your home needs to not only be functional for work, and living but also needs to be your sanctuary and creative respite. How do you think your company in particular encourages consumers to think about how they are using their space as well as being accountable for the items they are buying?
CC: The modular system we designed for Hoek gives the user the power to transform their space in a matter of seconds, whether that be transforming your workout space into your home office, or having the ability to have extra seating for guests whenever you need it without taking up precious space in your home. Every design decision we have made from the very beginning has been guided by our circular design methodology. We want to make sure that not only are we choosing the best sustainable and recycled materials, but the way we machine and put our parts together is done in such a way that they can be easily taken apart and replaced if necessary.
AI: The Shantell X Hoek collection seems like it is only the beginning of collaborations with other artists! Do you have other future artist collaborations planned? What else is coming down the pipeline?
CC: Yes! Part of our plan with Shantell is to identify new up-and-coming artists and to create a regular artist in residency program at Hoek. The hope is that young artists can come to work with us and take advantage of our expertise in materials and manufacturing. We in turn will gain valuable new perspectives and ways to approach our day-to-day design which will strengthen us as problem solvers in the years to come. Without naming any names, we have two amazing collaborations in the pipeline with Brooklyn artists that we are currently working on and will have some exciting things to share closer to the end of the year.
AI: We will keep a look out. What is next for you Shantell?
SM: Keep a look out!
See all the pieces from the limited edition design collection here.