Artist Shantell Martin transforms downtown Denver’s walkways with black-and-white drawings

Shantell Martin is working with the Denver Theatre District to create her largest installation to date, which covers the walkways along 14th Street.

Shantell Martin; Denver Theatre District
Shantell Martin; Denver Theatre District
Shantell Martin is working with the Denver Theatre District to create her largest installation to date, which covers the walkways along 14th Street between Stout and Champa near the Convention Center. (Stephanie Snyder/Denverite)

London-born artist Shantell Martin’s signature black-and-white drawings have transformed everything from walls and restaurants to objects and clothing. Now her largest installation to date is currently taking shape in downtown Denver.

On Tuesday, Martin started spray-painting free-form whimsical lines, faces and words along the pedestrian walkways and plazas on 14th Street between Stout and Champa near the Convention Center.

Not only will the massive installation also include her first sculpture, but it is also the first project she has done on the ground, and it will be preserved for between two and three years.

“I’m a little bit crazy for taking on such a project, but I think Devner’s a great place for it,” said Martin, who will be working on the piece through the end of the week.

“This is a little bit of a hub, and it’s a corner where there’s a mixture of everything,” she said. “People in business suits have stopped, kids going to the theater have stopped and it seemed like a really nice kind of junction to meet all these walks of life.”

The installation is part of the Denver Theatre District’s Terra Firma series, which also included the “Blue Trees” project and is focused on bringing interactive art to the area.

Shantell Martin; Denver Theatre District
Shantell Martin is working with the Denver Theatre District to create her largest installation to date, which covers the walkways along 14th Street between Stout and Champa near the Convention Center. (Stephanie Snyder/Denverite)

NINE dot ARTS was tapped by the theater district to curate a piece for this space, which they did by putting out a design competition that narrowed down 75 artists to five, including Martin.

“I’ve just always appreciated the universal messages that she has in her work. It’s not terribly politicized or polarizing — it’s all stuff that everyone can understand and appreciate,” NINE dot ARTS associate curator Chris Roth said. “Art is very intimidating for a lot of people, and I think that she helps bring it to everyone.”

Martin — who consistently interacted with passersby Wednesday afternoon, handing out stickers and answering questions — said her hope for the installation is that is makes people smile and inspires curiosity.

“I’m all for making art accessible, and I’m up for making it interactive and, for me, I see questions,” she said. “You’re walking along the floor and you see something that says ‘why are you here?’ or ‘who are you?’ or ‘are you being yourself?’ It’s a great opportunity to put those questions out into the world.”

Shantell Martin; Denver Theatre District
Shantell Martin is working with the Denver Theatre District to create her largest installation to date, which covers the walkways along 14th Street between Stout and Champa near the Convention Center. (Stephanie Snyder/Denverite)

Stephanie Snyder

Author: Stephanie Snyder

Stephanie Snyder is Denverite's engagement specialist — focusing on social media, audience development and finding creative ways to connect with readers. Like many, she is an enthusiastic Denver transplant after working as a journalist in New York City, Southern California, Washington, D.C., and her hometown — Phoenix.