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We sit down with Chicago-based artist Hebru Brantley for an exclusive chat.
Hebru thnking big on S Wabash in Chicago prior to opening “Memoirs Of The Minimum Wage”

Hebru Brantley’s path in the art world started in his native Chicago tagging walls and marking up trains. He’s since moved onto impressive murals all over the world while exhibiting work in New York, Los Angeles, London, Switzerland, etc. His youthful characters and pop infused contemporary art have struck a chord with high profile collectors such as Jay Z & Beyonce, George Lucas, LeBron James, Nicki Minaj, Swizz Beatz, and Lenny Kravitz. His road has lead back to Chicago as he opened “Memoirs Of The Minimum Wage” at Vertical Gallery (1016 N. Western Avenue in Ukrainian Village) last week. Our own @jreich got a chance to talk to Hebru about his new show, art in Chicago, and who he’s got his eye on in the street art world.

@jreich: Tell us about your new show at Vertical Gallery “Memoirs of The Minimum Wage”. How is it different from previous gallery shows that you’ve done?

HB: This is the first time I’ve ever done a comprehensive works on paper show, where all the works are on paper. In doing that I had to scale down a lot of my works as I tend to think and work “big”. In composition I had to shrink that down a tremendous amount and still be able to tell the same narratives I would on a larger scale. 

@jreich: You’re one of the faces of art in Chicago. What’s your take on the scene here both on the street and in galleries?

HB: I know that Chicago is a market that gets left out of the conversation a lot of times when you talk about street art. It’s a growing, growing market with artists now who are pushing the envelope. When I moved back to Chicago there was a huge void among mid tier level of art when dealing with street to gallery. Chicago was sort of a “safe” art market where we had some masters, but it was very safe. As far as public art, it was also very safe. We were dealing with a mayor that deemed any form of public art that wasn’t sanctioned by the city “graffiti”. It would get buffed, blocked out, blocked over, and never really get time to shine. We’re now starting to get more of a push on a street level of artists  that are experimenting and trying different things and stylings on public spaces that work. Chicago is the third largest metropolis in the United States and the audience is here, you just have to build it. It’s a rapidly growing audience, and from the gallery side there is more understanding and appreciation for that style of work. That helps push the agenda further as they can bring in artists from all over who are practicing these styles.

@jreich: Your work’s struck a chord with many pop culture icons from the worlds of music, film, and sports. What do you think what you do resonates with so many other creative people?

HB: To just borrow the term, “real recognizes real”. What I do comes from a very genuine, authentic place. It’s a voice that I feel doesn’t necessarily exist in a lot of spaces. The connectivity is there with certain people; artists, rappers, actors, musicians etc because the sentiments are echoed within their creative prowess. It’s just the best tend to meet at the top.

Hebru with Mellody & George Lucas (creator of Star Wars)
@jreich: You’ve exhibited your work in Art Basel Switzerland & Miami, Frieze London, Scope New York, and Los Angeles, Atlanta, San Francisco among others. What’s special about showing in your hometown?

HB: More than anything, it’s my hometown. It’s a place of comfort, but then a place of fear because I feel as though these are the people that have a certain expectation for the work. Chicago is a very fickle city, especially when it comes to the love and appreciation of any form of art. So you have to really, really to bring your “A Game”. To be able to be that champion for my city, and be that person that can be at the forefront, and take those bumps and bruises and take that city on my back and continue to champion for my city and help it gain that spotlight that’s definitely well deserved is what I task myself with.

“The Watch” installation on Michigan Avenue, 2013
@jreich: Your public works can be/have been seen all over Chicago, from “The Watch” on Michigan Ave, to a mural in Rodgers Park, to the McCormickGreen Line stop. Tell us a little about one of your favorite pieces you’ve created here and the response you’ve received.

HB: In the public space probably would be the piece on Milwaukee and Wood because of longevity. It’s still up (after 6+ years) which is saying a lot in Chicago’s graffiti climate. It is one of my favorites because every time I look at it I am reminded of my growth as an artist.  To see where I was to where I am. It was one of my first incarnations of my characters on walls. That came off in a very good way and created a narrative that people gravitated to.

@jreich: You’ve cited Basquiat, Haring, and Kaws as some influences in your work. Who are some other current urban/street artists you keep an eye on, and what attracts you to what they’re doing?

HB: Connor Harrington for sure, I really love his work. The godfather, OG Kenny Scarf. There’s something fantastical about the characters that he does and the way in which they’re created and constructed. Rounding out that would probably be Pose, Cleon Peterson, and my man Hush.

@jreich: What’s coming up for the rest of 2015 and beyond?

HB: A lot more creativity. I have a slew of different projects that I’m working on, other things that I’m entertaining. I don’t want to give away the ambition so I’ll just say you have to stay tuned. But I damn sure won’t disappoint 

For more on Hebru visit and follow @hebrubrantley and @verticalgallery on Instagram & Twitter.

Christie Bailey

About Christie Bailey

She is the co-owner of Hypocrite Design and a contributor for Dumbwall and Street Art News. In recent years she interviewed more than 50 World renowned Street Artists, and wrote hundreds of art reviews focusing on painting and street art. She is currently employed in the Fashion Industry and lives in Milan, Italy.