If you haven’t heard of Hebru Brantley’s name floating outside of art circles, you might recognize some of the hallmark characters depicted in the Chicago native’s work. Two of those figures are the cartoons ‘FlyBoy’ and ‘Lil Mama’ — both inspired by the Tuskeegee Airmen, a group of African-American fighter pilots who fought against racial discrimination in World War II and went on to become one of the most respected fighter groups during that time.
We caught up with Brantley at his Los Angeles studio to get a glimpse of his creative process and what it’s been like to work with a brand like Bombay Sapphire, who’s given back so much to the art community through initiatives like their annual Artisan Series, which ran for a decade.
“My first experience with Bombay came about with the Artisan Series many moons ago. Bombay was doing this competition for artists to flex their style and muscle,” Brantley explains. “I was a young artist, up-and-coming in Chicago. I entered the contest and won the Chicago section of it. All the winners were flown out to Miami, it was the first time I felt like I belonged [and] felt like a rockstar.”
That was exactly the jumpstart Brantley needed to kick his career into high gear. “Bombay did a really good job of putting the importance on the artist and the arts. I was able to have a really successful [Art] Basel experience and was lucky enough to sell a piece and get it to a very successful and well-known rapper,” Brantley continues. “That was a huge boost for my career.”
It turns out that successful rapper happened to be Jay-Z and he purchased Brantley’s finale piece in 2012 for a cool $20,000. After that early success, Brantley was able to build on the momentum and his cachet as an artist to the point where he was finally able to do solo exhibitions. Brantley confidently admits that “all of these things came from getting that experience within the Artisan Series.” Other notable clientele includes LeBron James, Lenny Kravitz, George Lucas, among others.
“It felt only right that Bombay Sapphire and I were able to do this together to benefit Black Lives Matter Chicago, to support the critical work they do in fighting for racial justice in my hometown.”
Today, Brantley’s relationship with Bombay Sapphire has come full circle. He’s been tapped to create the brand’s first limited edition bottle, and what better way to commemorate the relationship than with the original piece that got him noticed? The design draws inspiration from Afro-Futuristic motifs found in Brantley’s narrative-driven work and is an extension of the first piece he submitted in the Artisan Series.
“When you create something unique like this, you want it to inspire hope for a better future and shine a light on the courage and resilience of Black people in America,” Brantley says. “It felt only right that Bombay Sapphire and I were able to do this together to benefit Black Lives Matter Chicago, to support the critical work they do in fighting for racial justice in my hometown.”
And while getting your artwork turned into a collectible bottle is dope in itself, the mechanics of it is actually a bit more complicated. “You have to think about how the design will sit from this angle or this angle — it’s a lot different than painting because it’s [on] a three-dimensional object,” Brantley admits.
The Bombay Sapphire x Hebru Brantley Limited Edition bottle drops July 1 in select states and at ReserveBar.com. To dive deeper into his creative process as an artist, watch our film above to see what else inspires and influences Brantley’s work, and you might even learn his favorite drink along the way.