Hebru Brantley’s New Art Show Takes Flight in Elmhurst

An artist in Chicago is soaring right now, and he has landed his new show in Elmhurst.

Hebru Brantley’s artwork is in the collections of George Lucas, Jay-Z and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. And while his murals and sculptural works are playful and approachable, they often have serious undertones.

“Chicago Tonight” visited the Elmhurst Art Museum for a tour of the show before it opened to the public.

TRANSCRIPT

Brandis Friedman: The Elmhurst Art Museum has been taken over by youthful superheroes that emerged from the mind of Hebru Brantley.

John McKinnon, executive director at Elmhurst Art Museum: Hebru Brantley is a very young, exciting artist from the Chicago area. He has been known for his really upbeat murals, things that he’s done throughout the city, also other cities and worldwide. He is also drawing on a lot of things that are very poignant and doing it very knowingly.

  • Hebru Brantley’s studio. (Photo: Max Schreier)

    Hebru Brantley’s studio. (Photo: Max Schreier)

  • (© Frank Ishman)

    (© Frank Ishman)

  • (© Frank Ishman)

    (© Frank Ishman)

  • Hebru Brantley’s studio. (Photo: Max Schreier)

    Hebru Brantley’s studio. (Photo: Max Schreier)

  • Hebru Brantley’s studio. (Photo: Max Schreier)

    Hebru Brantley’s studio. (Photo: Max Schreier)

  • Hebru Brantley’s studio. (Photo: Max Schreier)

    Hebru Brantley’s studio. (Photo: Max Schreier)

  • Hebru Brantley’s studio. (Photo: Max Schreier)

    Hebru Brantley’s studio. (Photo: Max Schreier)

  • Hebru Brantley’s studio. (Photo: Max Schreier)

    Hebru Brantley’s studio. (Photo: Max Schreier)

Friedman: The inspiration for his “Flyboy” characters are the Tuskegee Airmen – the African-American military pilots who fought in World War II.

Brantley, a Bronzeville native, rarely does TV interviews and he declined our request.

McKinnon: Hebru made new work specifically for this show with a lot of ideas in mind of how a visitor might walk through the exhibition. So while he made a lot of individual pieces, he built on a narrative as a whole.

There is a larger story about cultural boundaries.

Through this installation, Hebru is really trying to elaborate on some social boundaries. It’s a physical boundary, and it’s a little literal in that sense, but beyond where we look, we see his character Flyboy and a number of other characters in a bit of mourning.

Friedman: The artist has ambition to go with his talent.

McKinnon: He’s talked about being a more handsome version of Walt Disney, and really having a kind of empire of sorts and really building on things, but also Jim Henson is a big influence as well.

Hebru’s work is, again, a bit of a collage – of drawing in a lot of different things but making it his own and some of his influences might include some street art pioneers such as Keith Haring, even someone as contemporary as KAWS, but his work is also including some other cultural phenomenons that are historic and contemporary at the same time like Afro-Futurism, and then also a lot of pop cultural references and artistic, you see some references to Andy Warhol, specifically, in the show.

Friedman: The new work fills all three galleries at the museum.

McKinnon: In the third gallery, Hebru’s final gallery, he has his character Flyboy—and again, there are multiple Flyboys here. They’re all multiple races, a sort of shifting ethnicity, and they’re being emancipated from traditional views, traditional roles of an African-American in Chicago and now they’re taking off with new flight, new ideas and new adventures.

Hebru is a phenomenon, and he thinks big.

More on this story

The exhibition is called “Hebru Brantley: Forced Field.” It is at the Elmhurst Art Museum through Jan. 7, 2018.

Note: This story originally aired on "Chicago Tonight" on Sept. 20.


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