Two years ago, burgeoning local artist Hebru Brantley was just that: local. Today, the towering pillar of art with the toothy grin has established himself amongst the pre-eminent in the country. His art is a commentary on childhood and the forces at work around that experience and you would be hard-pressed to walk through a neighborhood in his hometown and not see one of his characters.
It’s certainly been a long road for Brantley, though. One that started in Chicago and ended up on a Jordan shoe.
Hebru Brantley is a big man at 6'7". At first glance one would easily mistake his large frame for a Bulls forward. In fact, several of his relatives played college basketball and his cousin Aaron Williams played in the NBA for several years.
Among the younger of the tight-knit clan, the young Brantley slowly shifted his view to a pad and pencil, drawing at his desk for hours and scouring magazines for inspiration.
"Growing up I was into a collage of different things from Blacksploitation movies to satirical cartoons," said Brantley. "I want my work to reflect all of those things and be a personal journey for me."
During all those hours logged at the pad and pen, there was one other constant in the artist's creative life: hip-hop.
Brantley's work incorporates spray paint and urban images and pulls from the inspiration of previous crafters such as Jean-Michel Basquiat with themes rooted in a multitude of different 90's-era cultural influences.
Evident in much of his work is a hip-hop element, drilled into his head during hours spent at his desk drawing. The musical influence lends a cultural consciousness that stamps a truly signature aesthetic to his pieces that have found their way into the collelctions of the likes of Jay-Z and Lupe Fiasco, among others.
"Music definitely plays a role," said Brantley, who's first painting was bought by DJ Drama. "Hip-hop always fueled the work--it's that energy and emotion that helps."
Close friend Andrew Barber of the Chicago hip-hop blog Fake Shore Drive has seen Brantley grow as an artist over the years.
"Even before we were friends I was a fan of his work and it's just amazing to see his rise to where he is now," said Barber. "It's nice to see someone make that leap from just a local guy to having everyone from Swizz Beatz to Lil Wayne know him."
Brantley's artistic vision has opened a new world for himself and his city at large and his unveiling last weekend of a special-edition Jordan shoe seemed to be the realization of an abstract dream. A stamp that his time is now.
"It's been a long journey and it certainly hasn't been easy," said Brantley. "I still feel like I have a lot to prove and show."