Hebru Brantley's 'Eat Crap King' at Vertical Gallery


Written by Eric Montanez & Ray Mestad

In the late 70's & early 80's, music and art collided amidst NYC's creative scene as friendships formed between artists like Jean-Michael Basquiat, Keith Haring and Andy Warhol, with musicians like Madonna, Fab 5 Freddie & more. Much of the art was heavily influenced by hip-hop culture (Warhol's prints of Fab 5 Freddie's Soup Cans) and between those scenes and more an NYC movement was created, a city visually and creatively challenging the assumptions of mainstream America, capturing the eye of the country (for those willing to look). Basquiat, Warhol, Haring and more, collectively defined a large portion of pop culture for their contemporaries and left their imprint as all time icons. 

Hebru Brantley has felt this imprint in his own life. These days in Chicago, we have our own creative renaissance taking root. Music and the arts continue to work in tandem, and as Chicago music begins to see commercial success, local creators with roots in street art begin to fly as well. Chance the Rapper & Hebru Brantley's relationship is one of collaboration, having worked together on the "Angels" video and more, but they almost certainly began as co-fans. And Chance's egalitarian process of distributing free music over the internet independent of external label forces runs parallel to Hebru Brantley's use of public space for creative expression. Any Chicagoan has at some point walked down a drab, cold street, only to be surprised by a large scale work of Hebru's, crashing over you in life and color. Always raw, always vibrant, Brantley's place in pop culture has continued to cement itself over the last few years - finding his works in the collections of Jay Z & Beyonce, LeBron James and Lil Wayne.

His new Exhibit Eat Crap King is being shown at Vertical Gallery until Saturday, Feb. 26. It's a tribute to, and analysis of Warhol and Basquiat's relationship, personally, commercially and socially. Honoring Basquiat and Warhol's competition, and humanizing their bond by portraying them in cartoonish, youthful manner, as well as viewing the two artists through the socio-political lens of how they were received in their time, Eat Crap King is ultimately an ode to heroes who influenced Hebru Brantley and artists around the world. The push-pull relationship between art, commercialism and success is inherent in the visual discussion, something that is oh-so relevant today. We asked Hebru Brantley some more questions about Eat Crap King, which you can find below.

One of the pieces that has been circulating for the promotion of the show is of Jean-Michele Basquiat & Andy Warhol's famous boxing photo shoot shot by Michael Halsband. What is it about the relationship between these two artists that inspired you to use it as subject matter for your show? Does the whole show feature these two artists?

It comes from the campaign that they did for their collaborative show back in the 80s. Again with Basquiat representing the young, hungry, unestablished, more primitive notion of the art world and Warhol representing the established traditionally accepted art world. The two worlds are always at odds depending on who you're talking to. The show mainly features Warhol and Basquiat, Keith Haring also makes an appearance. 

Another one of the peices I've seen circulating includes another well-known New York based pop/street artist Keith Haring. All of these New York art scene legends are being featured in these pieces (the show is all originals on canvas, framed), what about them aside from their street art/pop art backgrounds drew you to them. Do they represent more to you than just artists? 

Of course. I grew up reading and studying these guys. They introduced me to art. I relate to Basquiat both literally (style of painting etc) and in the way that society views him compared with his peers.

Would you say any or all of these artists have had an impact on your career or the work you make in general? Have they had an impact even before the concept of this show came along? Do you personally relate with any of these figures and are they the spotlight of the show?

They have all impacted my work in different ways. I think you can see a little bit of all of them in the work that I create.

With the current political climate in America, do you think these two larger-than-life figures, Andy Warhol & Jean-Michele Basquiat represent more than their artistic relationship? Moreover, by having these two figures in the same artistic plane becoming the spectacles of the piece, do you think issues of race & identity are brought to light? Was race something that you were thinking about during the creation of this show?

The subject of race is a topic in all of my work. The topic of race is more pronounced in this body of work (as it was in the 80s when the two men became friends) because they are side by side in the same frame. They definitely represent more than their artistic relationship. 

'Eat Crap King' runs at Vertical Gallery (1016 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL) through February 25