When exploring cities around the world known for creating creative communities, one cannot fail to mention Chicago. It is recognized as a breeding ground for forward-thinking thinkers and innovators in pop culture, one of which is the esteemed artist Hebru Brantley.
Brantley’s collectible works span various art forms including graffiti, oil, acrylic, watercolor, video and photography, many of which are expressive of the concept of afrofuturism. He is a world builder and his inimitable narrative is showcased through his playful character set. His signature creations of Frogboy, Lil Mama and Rocket are all derived from his upbringing, rooted love for comics and movies and the Windy City AfriCOBRA movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and are designed to evoke emotions of nostalgia, hope and power. High-profile characters such as Jay-Z, LeBron James, George Lucas and Chance the Rapper have all shown admiration for Brantley’s artistic talents, the latter of which even shouts him out in his song “Blessings (Reprise)” from his mixtape. Coloring book.
The Bronzeville native recently joined
HYPEBEAST caught up with talented creatives to discuss the importance of inspiring the next generation of creatives, the importance of brands offering artists a platform to create, and more.
HYPEBEAST: What made you passionate about sneakers?
HB: I’m just a product of my environment. Not to sound cliché, but I grew up in South Chicago during the Jordan era, so it was just a foregone conclusion. Growing up in Chicago at the time you had two things that were a certainty. You were a fan of the Bulls and Michael Jordan and listened to R. Kelly all the time.
Your works of art are often associated with the streetwear scene, what do you think of the split between art, streetwear, fashion, sneakers and all-encompassing culture?
It is centuries old. Look at Chanel and the pop movement of the 80s, there has always been that intersection where art and fashion live in a space together, hold hands and leave. It’s no different right now, but it just happens in abundance and every time you blink there’s another collaboration coming out with an artist or creative. It also gets a lot brighter thanks to social media. Exposure is the biggest difference.
Before your collaboration with adidas, did you ever think that your work of art could translate into footwear?
It has always been something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid. I come from a creative and athletic family, but I am the only one in the family who has stayed true to it and pursued it as well as being a hobby. But I remember the times my cousin and I used to stay up late and draw our silhouettes, draw certain shoes, and then add our colors and style. It was always something I appreciated and wanted to be a part of.
Your art is centered around this concept of afrofuturism. How did you come to that design language for yourself and what inspired it?
It only binds to my upbringing and the things I was in without knowing it was forming. As I grow up and notice the things that intrigued me, the things I associate with, the movies I watch 100 times and the comics I like have been built over time. The hardest thing for artists to do is define their voice by any means. When I was looking for mine, I thought I had a good sense of my heritage and culture, but it didn’t feel like it was fully representative of who I was as a person. It took some time to encrypt. I started to find that language and incorporate the things that came to my mind through the things I really cared about and my style grew out of that. I am a huge fan of the dark. I’m a pretty sober dresser and I think a lot has to do with my height as I’m 6’8 and it’s hard for a 6’8 guy to be absurd or overdo it. The people I’ve always admired are the ones who have gone above and beyond like George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, Bootsy Collins, Prince and guys like that. They are all part of my expression and how I want to excite and add sensitivity to what I want to create.
From a creative point of view, how did you approach the collaboration of the adidas Originals Forum?
How do I do with everything I do. First is the excitement, then the panic, then the conversations and the feedback. then finally land on something that feels right. I think one of the hardest things to do is design for an existing silhouette, especially something that has a history behind it like the Forums do. There have been years and years where other people have come in and put their fingerprint on it, so it’s about figuring out how to create something that is completely original or that leans towards my voice or sensitivity without feeling like I’m I leaned on something that has already come before me. I’m really lucky to have a situation where I can work with adidas that really cares about what they are doing and cares about the artist in a real way. It’s not like I’m just here to fill in a space and they’re ticking a box, they really don’t care about my input and really care what I have to say. When you have that support, it really helps the end result.
The Forum is such an iconic shoe. How did you honor its importance by adding your style?
I’m a visual artist, so it’s hard for me to transcribe what I do or distill it into one or two projects. This is a slightly different approach and incorporating elements of things I have created in the past as identifiers for silhouettes. The Rocket and Frogboy characters are symbols of freedom, emancipation and evasion. It is also important to note that you are in a position where, for those in the know, they know just by looking and without seeing my name appear on a shoe or box.
Has working with adidas influenced your work or changed your vision of what you do?
It has helped me gain a sense of understanding and confidence as I grow in my artistry and expression, as well as having a greater sense of freedom in what I create and how I create. I also want to note that I have not been hand held or pampered during this process or given any “yes” answers to everything. Things didn’t work out every time and we had to try new things. The more hits you make, the stronger your game becomes. From this project, I gained a renewed sense of confidence in feeling like I own real property instead of feeling like a company just cut me a check and gave me some color variations to make. And this is important because for a lot of collaborations these days, a lot of companies just want you to hand over your assignments and shut up.
Why do you think it’s good that adidas are famous for artists of all caliber?
It broadens the perspective that allows a wider audience to participate as those artists bring into their communities. It’s also something where I feel adidas is one of the very few brands that actually celebrates creativity and puts creativity in an athlete-like position. This is important because it lives and dies with the creative. Athletes wear it and make this stuff interesting, but creatives are the ones who get to see it from its genesis.
What do you hope this collaboration will mean for culture?
It is important that people younger than me and those who follow me know that there is no monolithic type of creative process. It could be footwear, clothing, home wear, anything, and you can run the gamut and do what you do. I am a good artist but I am not limited to galleries. There is always an intention to inspire in everything I do. It seems trivial but I didn’t have a rhythm growing up, and I want to be an example for others not to limit you and to know that the sky is the limit if you are creative.
Why are sneakers and their stories important to you?
For me, sneakers are the most important thing about fit. I am very interested in the culture of collectors and it is super intriguing. I also like the way it is a form of artistic expression and it is a wearable form of artistic expression that is extremely and entirely unique. Like art, it’s all subjective and one shoe can mean different things to different people.