Behind the Creative Process of Artist Hebru Brantley & His Approach to Art Basel

Hebru Brantley in 2016
Jeff Schear/Getty Images for Hublot

Hebru Brantley at Hebru Brantley Studios on May 5, 2016 in Chicago.  

During Art Basel, Miami is overwhelmed by fairs, collectors, artists and culture vultures. Most wrap up their work in a few days and move on to the next host city. Increasingly, the art market has become a financial marketplace where people buy and sell work the same way you would a blue chip stock.

But some artists, whose mission isn’t only to create but to communicate a shared humanity, take a different approach to that new construct. Billboard caught up with Chicago-based artist Hebru Brantley at the opening of Miamian David Grutman’s new Komodo Lounge on Brickell to find out about his creative process, what it’s like to be one of the music world’s favorite artists with fans ranging from Jay Z to Lupe Fiasco, and why he decided to exhibit his work at a pop up gallery that would stay open long after the Basel fanfare died down.

Why do you think so many musicians are drawn to and collect your work?

I think they could give you a better answer to that. But I think the work that I do, a majority of it, is more accessible. If you’re approaching the art work from a perspective of ‘I buy what I like’ as opposed to ‘I buy what I’m told to like’, or 'what I’m told will increase in value’ in a year or two, I think my work is for you in that space. For a lot of these people, having a bit more disposable income, being sort of the trail blazers in their field and their profession, they want the trailblazers in other fields professions and so i think the work compliments who they are and what they do in that way.

How does music factor into your creative process?

Music is everything to my work. I’m a very energy-based artist, so just like one would go to the gym and play certain music to get themselves amped, I used the same methodology when I start painting. It’s having those vibes that are essential to whatever the vibe or the tone is which I’m creating with.


Do you depend more on beats or lyrics for inspiration?

The methodology is such that when I start a piece, there’s certain music helps set that tone. Like anything in creation, it’s about that journey so when I start a piece there’s that music that I play that kind of helps me uplift my spirit and get me to focus and go. 

Then there’s that meat and potatoes. That middle part of it that I’m just allowing the subconscious to take over and zone out. It becomes more beat driven, more vibes driven. I might listen to instrumentals and go to jazz where I’m not focusing necessarily on what’s being said but again it’s the vibes, its just that.

Who are you listening to when you work now?

My brother Chance the Rapper, my brother Q-tip, the new Tribe album as well. Anderson Paak, Childish Gambino -- the new album is sensational. Borrowing from the spirit of Sly and the Family Stone and George Clinton I really dig it. Overall I’m all over the place with my musical taste.

Any hidden surprises in your musical collection?

Sun Ra's Lanquidity is my go to. From that to Adele. (Laughs) All the time it varies -- my moods change from hour to hour.


Alter Native

A photo posted by Hebru Brantley (@hebrubrantley) on


You’ve talked in the past about Basquiat being a major influence for you. Are there others?

It’s constantly changing. Always something new coming out. For me it goes between contemporary artists in the high art space, to comic artists, to production design artists. It runs the gamut. Everyone from a James Jean to a Mickalene Thomas to a Derrick Adams to a Kerry James Marshall. It’s vast who I appreciate. The greats, the comic book artists like Jim Lee and Jay Lee I appreciate all forms .

It seems like the line between high and low art is getting a little more fluid. What’s been your experience with that?

There’s a constant reminder that there is a division between the two. Your constantly smacked with that reminder when you experience some of these fairs where they can be more elitist and keep the perspective of what’s high art and what’s not. You have certain artists working in film to comics to museum curated shows then you have the artists that are very specific in their approach and are only working in the high art space. I myself have an appreciation for everything from comics and cartoons to museums shows. For me it’s always been a goal to be able to exist in those spaces comfortably and be equally accepted in both.


Is that why you decided to have a pop-up exhibit in Miami during Basel week instead of going the traditional route of being at the fair?

I have a lot of great friends here that are like family. Miami has adopted me. The opportunity that I have given was great and you can’t pass that up. It’s sort of skipping a step in the art world where i was allowed to have this pop up without following anybody else’s paths.

What would you want somebody to take away from your work 100 years from now?

I didn’t study art in school. I didn’t go the traditional route. For me, growing up on the Southside of Chicago in the not greatest neighborhood, the limited exposure to art in any form being a person that could be a conduit for creativity  for a younger generation letting them see that there are other ways which to grow and blossom out of a situation other than the traditional ones that we've been told exist. For me, it’s very important that I can be that conduit into high art or that personaI link to museum work.  For a young kid in the inner city, walking into a museum becomes daunting -- it's a frightening thing, it’s clean, it’s posh. It has an air about it that is very unfamiliar to those that don't grow up around it.  So if I can be the start to get the next generation to start to look at work in a different way and make it more approachable, to me that's everything.


Hebru Brantley's Theories of the Lowend pop up show will be exhibited at the Pirez Sister's Gallery, 2450 NW 2nd Ave., until January 7th.