Complex | Art & Design

Hebru Brantley | Bold Moves Series

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I first became interested in art. I was a very early age, before I can recollect. I always had an affinity for art. For me, some of the earlier memories obviously are cartoons. You know, it was my first assimilation into the art world. It was cartoons, then comic books, then fine art. And the appreciation for fine art grew after my mother sort of introducing me to that lane. Drew: I think he's a littlebit more forward and audacious than just the average artist. That's how I think he sets himself apart from his contemporaries and those who preceded him, as well.


My career began when I was in college.

I grew up doing graffiti in Chicago.

That's where my roots are. But after a while, and getting into trouble. I let it go a little bit. I went to Clark Atlanta University and what I started to do was do paintings on t-shirts and trucker hats and stuff like that, just to make a little extra money, but it really took off. That's kind of where it started, and then I kind of got back into doing street art.


His stuff sits apart because it's taking a unique blend of street art, graffiti, and then the traditional painting that has kind of meshed it all together and put like this hip hop spin on it.


Graffiti was the end-all, be-all. I grew up in the backpacker days, so it was about those elements of hip hop, breaking, rapping, writing, graffiti, but my appreciation for the work grew but then I

also sort of became

bored with graffiti and graph.


Hebru is very unique in a sense that I've never really seen anybody do the type of work that he's done. It's different. His paintings are very bold. They just make statements.


I define success not by anything monetary. For me, I believe in the mastery of my craft. When you set your mind on something and you want to achieve something, you have to work hard at it, period. Whatever that is, and I've definitely put in the hours in order to

mature my style, learn

different styles, practice.


I think a lot of times people are stuck on the previous generations. They want to talk about Basquiat or Andy Warhol, and I really

believe that he is that

person of our generation.


I draw inspiration from every day. I live in Chicago. Chicago's not a city for punks. To look or turn on my television and see what's happening on the south side of Chicago. Every day, there's another murder. You know, it's become, I think, so commonplace to a lot of people that it's just, it's every day life. But it shouldn't be. That definitely affects what I do and how I do, and the stories that I tell. Drew: Chicago is hardcore,and it definitely toughens you up. You're forced to engage with the grown up elements of life, but you have those individuals who have built something beautiful out of it. Kind of the rose that grew from concrete, if you will.


A lot of what I deal with, it borrows from different cultures, especially my own as an African American. And talking about what it is to be a person of color now, you know, in this time. To me that's important. Romare Bearden, he said it best, that a real

artist tells the tale of the

time in which they lived.


I think his theme is

infusing social commentary

into an art form.


I feel like everybody can find something within one of his paintings that they can relate to.

Brantley: One of the main

characters that's reoccurring is the Flyboy. Where it came from was the idea of having a hero or sort of iconic character that can exist in the same space as the Supermans, the Batmans, the

Spidermans, but having

a character of color. The Flyboys come from my idea of the Tuskegee airmen. They were the first African American pilots. I love the idea of the iconography of these yellow goggles and this idea that that symbol can be sort of empowering. When you're a kid and you're playing Cops and Robbers or Hero and somebody puts a towel on their back and they're running through the house, they're Superman. They sort of embody that character and that mindset and that's a feeling that I sort of want to recreate or bring about in the work. Barber: I see Hebru'stheme as the future and also revolutionary. And what I mean by that is, when you look at what he's doing, this is the future. This is the future not only of art, but of the world as well. Brantley: I have several goals,but the ultimate goal is to be considered a master at my craft. That's the most important thing.


Brought to you by the 2013 Toyota Avalon - unlike any Avalon you've seen before.

From cartoons and comic books to graffiti to fine art, Hebru Brantley's evolution has been as eclectic as it has been productive. Learn more about his influences and his unique spin on the street art culture by checking out the video above.

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