[This article originally was published by Entropy on 12 December 2017]
Towering above the sidewalk of Champa Street in the downtown Denver are three black-and-white, multi-story billboards that read: “WHO ARE YOU,” “YOU ARE YOU,” and “ARE YOU YOU” respectively. The signs are promotional material for the Shantell Martin mural across the street. The Denver Theater District, in partnership with Nine dot Arts, commissioned the mural as part of their Terra Firma project. Terra Firma’s stated vision is to develop “unique urban art installations” in order to create “interactive, immersive and experimental art and culture events and experiences.”
Martin’s mural, which she created in mid-October, covers a 2,050-square-foot area on the sidewalk of south side of 14thStreet between Arapahoe and Champa Streets. Her work consists of chaotic, black-and-white lines made with spray paint and markers; Martin intersperses her line work with textual elements and rudimentary representations. The overarching aesthetic bears an indebtedness to 80s-NYC Pop Art darlings Keith Haring and Jean Michel-Basquiat.
According to Martin’s website, her artwork is a “meditation of lines; a language of characters, creatures and messages that invites viewers to share a role in the creative process”; moreover, it explores “objects, places and conversations of the everyday experience.” With regard to her Denver mural, Martin noted in a recent interview with Westword that “she’s enthusiastic and happy to see people watching and asking questions: ‘It’s important that it’s accessible [and] people come see me working’.” To the extent that her art encourages audience members to participate in the creative process, engages everyday conversations and experiences, and is accessible to a wide range of viewers, Martin’s project champions an egalitarian, collaborative, and quotidian rhetoric.
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