Hebru Brantley

Hebru Brantley draws inspiration from comic books and pop art to create empowering, afrofuturist visions.

Brantley’s trademark superheroes appear across canvas, murals, and sculpture, reimagining the comics and animations that inspired him as a child. His work has gained international attention in the art world, as well as a host of A-list buyers including Beyonce and Jay Z.

Select Achievements
  • Notable collectors include LeBron James, Beyonce and Jay-Z, Lenny Kravitz, George Lucas
  • Solo show, The Great Debate at Galerie Des Bains, Tokyo, 2019
  • Solo show, Lord Of The Flys at Avenue Des Arts, Hong Kong, 2018
  • Solo show, Theories Of The Lowend at Miami Art Basel, 2016
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Hebru Brantley, Untitled (2019). Courtesy of the artist.
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Hebru Brantley, Eat Crap King (2017). Courtesy of the artist.

The young characters which he creates are strong, powerful and ambitious, often adorned in hats, suits and masks that reference fictional icons such as Batman, the Incredible Hulk and Mickey Mouse. Similarly, the artists’ that Brantley admires are often the subjects of his paintings, with Jean Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol appearing in many of his works.

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Hebru Brantley, Murals In The Market, Detroit, 2015. Photo Credit: Michelle & Chris Gerard

Combining elements of street art, Manga and Pop Art, Brantley makes accessible artworks that deal with themes of aspiration, nostalgia, race, power, and hope.

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Hebru Brantley, To and Fro (New Users), Elmhurst Art Museum, 2017. Canvas wrapped fibreglass, resin and acrylic.

Brantley mixes reality and fantasy in his work. The Watch (2013) is a public installation on Michigan Avenue in the heart of Chicago’s art district. The work is a colourful cluster of child superheroes, ‘Flyboy’ and ‘Lil Mama,’ who recur throughout Brantley’s oeuvre. The cartoonish figures all stand in different postures, representing a diverse spectrum of emotion.

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Hebru Brantley, The Watch, Installation in Chicago's Pioneer Court Plaza, 401 N. Michigan Avenue, 2013 | Photo Credit: Nick Brazinsky
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Hebru Brantley, The Watch, Installation in Chicago's Pioneer Court Plaza, 401 N. Michigan Avenue, 2013 | Photo Credit: Kristie Kahns

Having grown up in Chicago, Brantley uses the public sculpture to highlight the beauty of the city and its people, while also acknowledging the difficulties and violence for young communities within it. In addition, the character’s oversized pilot goggles reference The Tuskegee Airmen, the first group of African American and Caribbean-born pilots who fought in the Second World War. By pulling these lived histories into fictional storytelling, The Watch represents the heroes of reality, as well as the heroes of make-believe.

 

“Ultimately, I want to leave people with a good feeling, I want to engage with that light the people let go dim within them.”

Brantley’s practice is a loving critique of the hero. The artist explains that, as a child, he did not see himself or his friends represented in the comic-books and sci-fi stories that he loved. The majority of the narratives centred around one all-powerful figure who was the incarnation of a white male. Critical of this, Brantley translates all that he admires about superheroes into archetypal characters who represent people of colour.

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“I always tell people, I failed my way to success. I’m a firm believer in it. It makes me not afraid to do certain things, because I know if I fail, it’s fine. There’s other ideas I can try next.”
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Hebru Brantley, Don’t Make Me Repeat Myself (2020). Courtesy of the artist.

Continuing the legacy of Afrofuturism, Brantley blends fragments of lived reality into fantastical storylines which imagine new possibilities and futures. Embodying the childish beauty of endless possibility, Brantley’s work is a symbol of ambition, wonder and hope.

 

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