The Art Plug Editorial: Hebru Brantley
The Chicago-born-and-bred artist Hebru Brantley got his start in the world of street art around his hometown. Since then, Brantley’s development as an artist has seen his work exhibited in locals as far flung as Miami and Hong Kong, where his exhibition “Lord of the Flys” was mounted earlier this winter at the gallery Avenue des Arts. Brantley has also collaborated with Nike, Cadillac, and Chance The Rapper and can name Jay Z and George Lucas as among his number of high profile collectors. But it all started in Chicago.
Brantley’s Fly Boy character acts as a sort of anchor for the artist’s overarching personal iconography. The Fly Boy is influenced by everything from comic book superheroes to the Tuskegee Airmen, who were the first African-American military aviators in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Decked out in yellow goggles and a red bandana, Fly Boy might just be the hero we need in this crazy world.
The blue-goggle-clad female character Lil MaMa was created by Brantley as a counterweight to Fly Boy.
“These girls would run just as fast if not faster, they were smart if not smarter, wise beyond their years,” Brantley commented to Hypebeast earlier this year as a way to explain his inspiration for the character.
According to the artist, Lil MaMa serves as a sort of “yin to the yang” of the Fly Boy.
Brantley’s characters exist in many forms, ranging from sculpture to oil paintings to limited edition toys—some of which are available for sale here at Marcel Katz Art—but regardless of how the character is manifested, the iconic, rebellious spirit born in part out of the artist’s love for cartoons remains.
“When you watch [cartoons] now as an adult, you begin to understand the symbolism they injected and the power that was there without having known it before,” Brantly told Complex. “You can inform a child at a young age what racism is without them really knowing. You’re injecting them with that. Going back to my work, it’s one of those things too.”
Although Brantley’s hometown informs his work—he name checks South Side Chicago’s Afro Cobra movement of the 1960s and 1970s as a major influence—it seems as if he has a hunger and ambition to transcend his current body of work and continue to elevate his practice.
“You can’t rest on little accomplishments,” he told Hypebeast. “Because if you do, you become a local legend instead of a legend.”
“It’s all about growth. I want to do films, heavy licensing deals. I want to run the whole gamut,” Brantly told Chicago magazine in 2014. “I want people to come out of the shower and step on a Hebru Brantley rug.”