Monday, June 23, 2014

Martyrs and Heroes: Hebru Brantley at the Chicago Cultural Center

Over this past week, the Chicago Cultural Center has been holding exhibitions of some of Chicago's best artistic talent. Among the artist being shown, the most famous is arguably Hebru Brantley, whose show, Parade Day Rain, currently dominates the Yates Gallery at the 4th floor of the Cultural Center.

The use of the space and the way Mr. Brantley's artwork is set up provides a spacious yet intimate setting for the viewer to properly engage with the art. If you go see this show (which will run until September 23), be mindful of your wristwatch because Parade Day Rain has a unique way of making one lose the sense of time. Parade Day Rain is so captivating because it holds a conversation that resonates with everyone, but Chicagoans especially.

Mr. Brantley communicates to Chicagoans with his instrument of choice, his trademark cartoon figures of child superheroes, the flyboys. Superficially, this may seem like a bit of a paradox. How can a child be a superhero? But if we think about it a little longer: how could a child not be a superhero? Who else carries a stronger sense of idealism, or a conscience freer from prejudice and corruption? Are these not the required traits for a superhero?

They are, but as Mr. Brantley demonstrates, they are increasingly under threat. While some of his paintings and floats depict these little heroes in the full glamor of triumph, many give us a more tragic picture, child superheroes defeated by the negative forces of our modern world: noise, violence, or garbage of any kind. Whether the connection was accidental or intentional, these flyboys (most of them of darker skin tones) represent the predicament that surrounds the youth of our city's most neglected neighborhoods.

This is why I think Mr. Brantley's work is so successful, because it conveys a serious message through a medium that everyone can understand. And the message is simple: Chicago's hope rests on the youth, but the youth's space for growth is quickly being expropriated by hostility. We are sinking our own life boats. What is impressive is that Mr. Brantley communicates this not through a graphic narrative, but simply by expressing the tension between the real and the ideal. Who ever thought cartoons could be so forceful?

Chicago is lucky to have him.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The "Modern Abstractions" of Spencer Rogers

Spencer and Dana Rogers, the dynamic duo of creative portrait photography in the South Loop, have refurbed their extensive Printer's Row studio space into a contemporary yet comfortably labyrinthine visual art gallery. This past Friday (June 6th), Spencer christened the new space with 20 spatially demanding and visually vibrant works in oil and acrylic for the exhibition, "Abstractions." The complex, layered works range in color from sunset reds and oranges to warm and playful fuschias to electric, otherworldly teals, but all works communicate cohesively in a conversation on defying barriers and exploring the liberating unknown. 

These paintings are worthy of the contemporary art viewer's attention and study, but the real story is in the "Modern Abstractions" pieces themselves--macro photographs of small sections of Spencer's painted works enlarged and printed on museum-grade plexiglass acrylic. The effect is hypnotizing, the shimmer of the acrylic texture transporting the print and the viewer into a meditative calm akin to feelings rendered when getting lost in the visuals of a crackling fire or sunlit Caribbean shoreline. 

Only 25 prints will be made of each acrylic photograph, and, as of this date, there are only 15 original works left for acquisition. Visit the gallery on Thursday, June 12th from 3-6 or Saturdays and Sundays from 11-3 before the show closes on June 21st. Contact Dana Rogers ( or gallery consultant Kimberly Atwood ( for a private viewing at Edenhurst Studio, 739 S Clark St, 2nd floor.

(photo courtesy of Kimberly Atwood)