Words and Lines at Denver Art Museum

Shantell Martin interconnects black lines for a simple yet recognizable style. Photo courtesy of the Denver Art Museum


Shantell Martin interconnects black lines for a simple yet recognizable style.
Photo courtesy of the Denver Art Museum

Shantell Martin transforms the museum with drawings 

Shantell Martin inspires visitors with her large-scale installation Words and Lines at the Denver Art Museum. With a simple yet monumental style of interconnecting black lines, she transforms a familiar work of architecture into a new world. Aside from other exhibition spaces, nearly every corner of the Hamilton Building bears her signature marks, including the stairways and elevators.  

Martin’s recognizable style consists of flowing and swirling lines that form faces and figures along with thought-provoking words. To promote the installation, the museum posted video clips of Martin describing her work. Elaborating on the meaning of the exhibition title, she says, “words are just made up of lines.” She goes on to explain how people often allow more creative freedom with lines than with words, especially their spelling. In some places the words are misspelled, whether intentionally or not, showing that desire for an expressive quality.  

From the first floor up, these lines and words conjure the feeling of existing within a psychological landscape. After developing this style of drawing in the clubs of Japan, her artwork leapt from the paper onto the sidewalks and architecture of reality. Martin even paints her own clothing in the same style, entirely immersing herself into the world she creates. 

Other aspects of the exhibition include an interactive display where visitors can manipulate a sculpture with spinning word blocks, as well as an animated video accompanied by music that brings her drawings to life. Each of these manifestations of Words and Lines encourages participants to analyze themselves and their place in the world. 

Born in London, Martin currently resides in New York City. Her linework can be seen around the world, including another site in downtown Denver. In 2017, the Denver Theatre District along with Nine Dot Arts, a private art curation firm in Denver, invited Martin to paint on the pavement around the Colorado Convention Center. Although somewhat faded over time, the artwork continues to enliven the urban plaza along 14th St. and Champa St. near the Blue Bear (I See What You Mean). 

 With the seven-story tower of the Denver Art Museum still under construction, visitors can become more familiar with the Hamilton Building. Designed by notorious architect Daniel Libeskind in 2006, the jagged walls often prove challenging for exhibiting artwork. In the promotional video for the show, Martin describes how the building “becomes more playful, it becomes more interactive.” She goes on to say “the viewer, the audience has to do a little bit more of the work to find these seeds that are spread throughout the museum.” Martin activates the bizarre spaces inside with her immersive installation and reveals the full potential of the unique architecture. 

 Martin also joins other artists working with typography on the walls of the Denver Art Museum, including Lawrence Weiner, whose large green and blue words “As To Be In Plain Sight” used to adorn the original structure of the museum before its demolition in 2018.  

Words and Lines remains on display throughout the Hamilton Building until January 31, 2021.

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