Let me start by saying this: The Chicago Cultural Center is one of the most beautiful spaces I’ve seen used to exhibit art. This building, that was once a library, is one of the city’s architectural gems. The mosaic tiled grand stairways are reason enough to visit the building but keep wandering around and you will find yourself amused for hours.
I had a professor in college that told us to never describe artwork as cute. I feel bad, but I’m using it. Hebru Brantley’s work is just so cute! I can see how that might give you pause but let me elaborate: Hebru Brantley’s work is intelligent, imaginative, engaging, narrative, and, well, cute. Without knowing anything about Brantley I could see how he has been influenced by Jean Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. Some of his canvases look like they began as free flowing line drawings a la Haring and were painted over in layers adding spray paint and unique color interactions. You can stand before a painting a read a story of friends meeting up, of a super hero questioning his own role in society and find clues of his roots in Chicago and his interest in Japanese prints. The work is amazing. After visiting his website I’ve learned that he grew up in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood and now has a studio in Pilsen.
We have favorites as teachers, admit it or not, we do. Vero has always been a favorite, for so many reasons. After wandering through the exhibit we discussed Brantley’s work and I was deciding which of her words to steal for this post, she was impressing me with insight into the paintings that I hadn’t thought of and reminding me of just how special this young adult and artist is. “There’s a sort of sadness to his work, like maybe he’s not that thrilled with the attention he’s getting, for his fame.” She’s right, though the work is playful there is an underlying darkness to the characters. Brantley’s exhibit is titled Parade Day Rain and runs through September 23rd. Before entering the main gallery a comic layout series of black and white drawings give you a loose story line as to what you will see inside. “I wanted there to be more of a parade even,” said Vero. I disagreed and felt the presentation left enough room for you to insert yourself into the story. I want to return with my nieces and nephews and I want to return with my students in the fall. The show sparked a discussion between Vero and I about identity and life paths and how education falls short of preparing students to discover who they are and what paths in life to take. It made me rethink my curriculum, yet again, and my teaching approach.