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Martin’s CAI residency concludes with joyful mural

Shantell Martin prepares to work on her mural. Photos: Bruce Jackson

By SUE WUETCHER

Published June 14, 2017

Head east along East Delavan Avenue in Buffalo, just past Fillmore Avenue, and you can’t help but notice the sprawling line-drawing, whimsical faces peering out from the long white wall. Created by British-born artist Shantell Martin, the mural has attracted attention in this urban neighborhood and infused some life into the long-closed Houdaille Industries plant at 537 E. Delavan.

This permanent mural is the culmination of Martin’s spring residency with UB’s Creative Arts Initiative, a pioneering program that explores creative expression in innovative ways that reach beyond studios and performance spaces and into all aspects of the university and Western New York community. The mural was created in collaboration with the Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s Public Art Initiative. Martin’s solo exhibition, “Someday We Can,” is on view at the Albright-Knox through June 25.

Titled “Dance Everyday,” the mural is signature Martin — a black line-drawing on a white background, sprinkled with positive phrases like “no one else you could be” and “peace.” She calls the artwork “light and refreshing.” “Large and impactful, but also very playful.” And “inspiring.”

Its simplicity — “I draw lines” and others can, too, Martin says — makes it accessible to audiences.

And Martin draws lines — on everything, from walls to found objects to toys to sneakers and a friend’s car.

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Although she doesn’t have a plan when she creates her artwork — “The pen knows where it is going and I just follow,” she says — Martin says that before starting work on the Buffalo mural she wanted to “educate herself” regarding the site and the audience for the piece. She met with members of local churches and neighbors so that the mural would be “more of a conversation” and “more relevant” to the community. She had scouted the East Side earlier this spring with UB graduate students, looking for the right site.

She finished the mural in about six hours over two days earlier this month — a forecast of impending storms spurring her on. Staff from the Albright-Knox, who had painted the original brown brick wall white in preparation for Martin, applied a protective coating to the finished mural to preserve it from graffiti, the sun and, of course, Western New York’s ever-changing weather.

While Martin worked, drivers passing the scene pulled their cars over to watch. Neighbors walked up. “Is that the British woman?” a woman asked a member of the Albright-Knox staff.

Martin says she’s only created a handful of murals before the Buffalo project, and at 220 feet by 25 feet, “Dance Everyday” is her largest drawing yet. She says she’s thankful to have been able to meet many members of the community, who have been “receptive and responsive” to her work.

The site at 537 E. Delavan is being rehabbed as part of a Buffalo Billion project to turn much of the neighborhood into a hub for light industry and commerce. Cynthia Stewart, managing director of the CAI, says the building that features the mural will be renovated and the panels that cover the windows eventually moved inside and displayed within the building. The grassy area in front of the mural will be developed into a public space. “It's very exciting,” Stewart says.

The CAI and Albright-Knox are planning an opening celebration for the mural, although details have yet to be worked out.

Martin says she hopes to be able to return to Buffalo for the celebration.