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The Angry White Man
Hebru Brantley
Blunted On Reality
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N'Art: Hebru Brantley: Blunted On Reality

By LaToya Cross

The arts nourish the soul of a community. Art speaks and breathes life into its audience's psyche and leaves an open canvas of exploration and thought.

South Side Chicago artist, Hebru Brantley, 29, uses his art to tackle the roots of a cultural generation.

His works strategically illustrate the voices of unsung heroes -- who may be classified to the naked eye as villains -- and speaks to street laborers and misguided youth.

The identities highlighted through colorful characters, phrases, and themed palettes instantly speak to a generation of understood struggle, make believe, and make do.

"I'm more of a storyteller. I like narrative," Brantley says. "I think there's something in a lot of the work that a lot of people can identify with. It makes it a lot easier with the aesthetics, the colors, whatever it may be... just makes it a lot easier to approach."

Hebru Brantley

Hebru's art is that of an enriched genre christened Afro-Futurism. It's a language of art that aesthetically infuses science fiction, historical fiction, magical realism, fantasy, and afro-centricity with non-western cosmologies.

This technique is used in order to bring forth present day dramas and dilemmas as it relates to African Americans. This style of work is smart in that it uses these tactics to also interrogate and re-examine historical events of the past -- maybe even revising a few ideologies along the way.

Brantley's imagination collides with these themes to create art that speaks to ideals, youth, and a society that he and many of his peers can relate to.

He notes, "I want to be a voice and I want to have a call and response to my generation."

In March of this year, Hebru, a self-taught painter and illustrator, showcased what has been his biggest show to date at the Zhou B. Art Center themed "Afro-Futurism: Impossible View."

The exhibit took risks with heavy imagination and unforgettable characters -- "Fly Boy," the goggle-wearing, commercialized ethnic hero, being one of the most prominent figures. Created from a place of imagination, it held a linear perspective.

"It was one message; it was very thematic in the sense that I focused around certain characters and used them as the people in which to tell the story," Brantley says.

That exhibition, which had an outstanding turnout of observers, enthusiasts, and buyers, sparked the introduction to Hebru's Afro-Futurism style of work.

His use of inspiration from comic books infused with characters representing pop-culture spawned the perfect segue into his next independent showcase, "Yesterdays Losers," to be held on October 14 at the Lacuna Artist Lofts in Pilsen.

"Yesterdays Losers, actually the title came from a piece I had in the last show, Yesterdays Losers, Tomorrows CEOs. I guess it's a generational thing, youth in a contemporary society. It deals with certain mythology, drug culture, all the way to street loiter. Things that I grew up with as an African American in my neighborhood, things that I've seen," he explains.


With art, there's a certain mystique, a social and cultural acknowledgement that roars heavy and quite bluntly if and when you scrutinize and take it in. There are conversations to be had and feelings to be felt. Perhaps even a feeling of obscurity, as one struggles to find a meaning, a purpose.

The upcoming presentation, Yesterdays Losers, immerses one into dialogue surrounded by misguided youth and society's responses to them.

Hebru's technique involves spontaneity and the use of an array of found objects, paintings, text, and multi-layered constructs of complexity.

"With this show, there are many underlining narratives, but I expound upon certain narratives that I ended at the last show. It's an heightened exaggeration of Impossible View. It has a bit of a cynical tone, a darker tone than Impossible View did."

Much of Hebru's work reminds you of artists Andy Warhol and Jean Michel-Basquiat, as the themed image for Yesterdays Losers bears resemblance to the 1982 Dos Cabezas painting Basquiat created after his initial meeting with Warhol.

"It's one of my favorite paintings because he captures the essence of both painters, two painters that I really admire," Hebru says, adding that the painting as it relates to the cover art piece of Yesterdays Losers is a response to this generation and time.

"I can't tell you how many people my age and younger know who those two people are. It's definitely a call of this time, where you have guys like Jay-Z making people more aware of a cultural stance, i.e. art and just worldly events."

"Basquiat was a painter that his work wasn't even for the time he existed. His audience is now and it's growing," Hebru explains. "There were so many uncertainties about art and culture at that point because everything was changing. They were laying the foundation, so now that everything has been established, it's used as a reference and starting point for a lot of creatives."

It's no surprise how often the comparisons make their way to Hebru's work. The influence is obvious. Yet, each promotes an individual voice and idealistic eye that captures the world in a universal essence. The vision remains to relate to their generation.

"I get the Basquiat reference a lot of times and I appreciate it because anytime you're put in the shadow of greatness it's definitely an accomplishment," he speaks humbly.

"Basquiat accomplished so much in his life and he is overall the pinnacle of why I coined the term, Yesterdays Losers."

He adds, "I think with this show, it's a growth. A growing process to where I'm doing this just for me. This is completely me, my vision and it's...take it or leave it."

Hebru's art exudes a street and intellectual approach to viewing the world and re-examining our past and current state. It's smart, entertaining, witty, real, thought provoking, and apologizes for nothing.

View more of Hebru's work at

Yesterdays Losers opens Friday October 14, 2011 at Lacuna Artist Lofts, 2150 South Canalport at 6 p.m.

(Learn More about Hebru's work at