Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Hebru Brantley: Chicago's Artist

A Chicago native, Brantley grew up on the south side. He did not become involved with art in any traditional sense as a child, rather he was interested in the 90's graffiti style that was common in his neighborhood. Looking back he states, "It was all about getting your name up wherever you could." As he comments in the video above, extrinsic motivation played a huge role during this time in his life. He constantly wanted to do a more unique or eye catching style than another street artist, that was what drove his art. At the age of 16, his mother gave him a book on Jean-Michel Basquiat and gave more inspiration regarding street art and self expression through this medium. 
Jean-Michel Basquiat, inspiration for Brantley
Brantley went off to college to study film, but dislikes the lack of creative freedom that was allotted in the industry. In an act of defiance and desperation, he began sneaking into classes at the Art Institute of Atlanta. It was here that he learned of artists outside of the street art movements. He sold his first work in 2002 which prompted him focusing solely on art as a career. 

Basquiat's influence in still seen in Brantley's work through significant influence from African American culture and a realistic portrayal of urban living, but now with a focus on Chicago. Notably, some of his painting also have a pop art feel inspired by none other than Andy Warhol. Additionally, he no longer identifies his motivation as extrinsic, but rather aims to tell a story than to compete with his peers. He hopes that his street art can help to inspire and motivate youth to look more into art and other artists. A few of his popular works are below: 

Everyones Scared 
Riding High 
The Watch
Brantley's works can be most easily identified in they contain his iconic character, Fly Boy. Fly boy has graced walls, canvases and sculptures. This character has become associated with the city of Chicago, further showing the significance Brantley has on the city and the city has had on his art.

Hebru is quickly becoming a favorite artist among musicians such as Jay Z. Brantley actually credits music as playing a large role in his creative process. He describes himself as energy driven and considers the music to help shape the tone of each piece. In a sense he lets the music take control and almost "zones out" during the middle of his work, allowing his subconscious to mingle with the music. 

Brantley has also done several collaborations with others artists from various backgrounds. Perhaps the most well known was for Chance the Rapper's "Angels" music video. Throughout the video, Chance personifies the Fly Boy character. The animation done throughout the video is from Hebru Brantley's Studio and the video was directed by Austin Vesely, a long time friend of both Brantley and Chance. These three Chicago artists were able to come together and create something iconic and uplifting for the city. This ability to work with others is a strength of Brantley's and there is no doubt that the impact of Chance's works has shaped some of his art due to his use of music throughout his creative process. 



  1. I first got into Brantley after the Chance video came out, so I'm so glad you included that! One of my good friends is really into graffiti art and happened to introduce me to many different artists this past summer, including Brantley. I think that his art is inspiring on many different levels. But I also love that this type of art is becoming more common in that people are accepting it as art as opposed to just "more graffiti" as has previously been the notion and perhaps discouraged many artists. I'm sure there is a little kid out there right now who is watching Brantley and Chance and making dreams of his own.

    Fun fact: There is a Hebru Brantley mural on Pratt!

  2. I've never heard of him but love this art! It's interesting how starting at a young age, his acts of defiance help him find creativity. I also find it interesting that he labels his motive as first extrinsic, but now intrinsic. Switching from a mainly extrinsic and mainly intrinsic motivation must be quite difficult, so I wonder what the journey that brought him there was like. Do you think it was difficult for him to go from acts of defiance to contained art, or do you think having complete creative freedom allows him to stray away from defiance?

    Another unique aspect you mentioned is how he zones out while listening to music and lets the music and his subconscious make the art. Does his art reflect the music he is listening to? Either way, I love his art and can't wait to see more of it.

  3. I remember seeing the child statues from his "The Watch" piece downtown this summer. It's interesting to consider competition within the field as an extrinsic motivator above the other extrinsic motivators like fame or compensation that Brantley has certainly achieved. It's also interesting that his major influences outside the visual arts are based in Chicago (Jay Z and Chance). Does this pull into our discussion of culture?

  4. I think this is a great example of intrinsic motivation. I love the idea that Brantley wanted so badly to learn that he would sneak into classes; this is the kind of passion that you can't teach someone. This also shows how motivation and inspiration can come from many different and unexpected sources, such as the music; this reminds me of how the senses (ie. sound and visual) have a much clearer connection for some creatives. When he listens to music while he paints, do you think he sees the sound visually and paints that, or just connects colors with emotions in the songs?

  5. i too love his work. I really love street art and graffiti. Spray paint is one of my absolute favorite mediums. you say in this that he has extrinsic motivation. I think he is influenced by extrinsic objects i.e. other artists, music, super heros, etc. but I think he is intriniscly motivated. He paints and creates because he wants to and it makes him feel happy. He recognizes that not everyone would like his work, but he likes it and that's all that really matters to him. He draws inspiration from other things and initially he might have been motivated by other artists but now his works are a part of his creativity and himself. it is no longer about other's approval or other's comments.

  6. What a cool collaboration between two self-taught artists! I love both artists and both are true icons and heroes to many Chicagoans. Both Chance and Brantley grew up on the South Side of Chicago, so it is interesting to see how each individual's work is conducive with the other's. Is makes me wonder: how much does the city and environment that I grew up in effect MY creative and work process?? How closely related are collaboration and culture?

    It is really inspiring to see two self-taught artists experiencing so much success! And I am sure inspiring to emerging Chicago artists.

  7. Hebru is a truly wonderful artist. Our group tried to get in contact with him for the final project. I really like how you explained his background and the influence of graffiti on his art. I think you can really see that come to life within his own paintings and murals. I also really like his Fly Boy character. I admire that he saw a lack of a representation of an African American youth cartoon figure and created his own. His works around Chicago are wonderful and inspiring!


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