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Chicago's Men of the Moment

Tate Gunnerson, Sarah Ryan, Jessie Sardina, Lisa Shames and David Zivan | March 27, 2017 | Feature Features

From a self-taught artist whose iconic work has been exhibited all over the world to a real estate entrepreneur moonlighting as a TV show co-host, the men of Chicago are having a big moment. Here, five trailblazers sound off—in their own words.

Whether he’s rubbing shoulders with high-brow collectors or hip-hop giants, street artist-turned-fine art painter Hebru Brantley continues to solidify his stance as one of the city’s leading creative luminaries.

“My whole life, I’ve been drawing, sketching and painting. I’m self-taught. I didn’t have an arts education, but I used to sneak into friends’ painting classes in college. I grew up in the Bronzeville area, and my work is inspired by that experience. A lot of people know me for my character Flyboy. There’s a giant mural of him in the South Loop, and last year I animated Chance the Rapper with Flyboy’s goggles for his “Angels” music video. I just exhibited at Art Basel Miami this year, and had my second solo show at Vertical Gallery in Ukrainian Village. I’ve also been lucky to do some pretty cool collaborations with Nike, Lacoste, Hublot and even Garrett Popcorn. Yeah, I’m always working. It’s hard to be an artist. If I was a person who played it safe, I wouldn’t be an artist. I’d be a desk clerk or some shit where I could sit and draw all day. But there’s kind of a void I have to fill. Every day I have to make something. I keep wanting to do more, bigger, on a larger stage. I want to continue to elevate from a career standpoint and a creative standpoint, and to just keep making dope shit.”

Shot on Location at Hebru Brantley’s Studio

Recently showcased in a Roman exhibit curated by Giulio Cappellini and Domitilla Dardi, industrial designer and artist Steven Haulenbeek’s stunning, one-of-a-kind sculptural pieces made of innovative materials are gaining fans worldwide.

“I have a collection of furnishings and pieces that are made for replication, but my sculptural pieces allow me to be experimental. WantedDesign in New York invited me to be the 2016 American Design honoree this past May, which was quite an honor. I produced a new cocktail table, a side table and some new vessels in ice-cast bronze. I made them by carving a recess into a block of ice and then filling it with hot casting wax. The rapid cooling of the wax against the ice naturally creates an otherworldly texture, and each piece is transformed into solid bronze via the lost wax process. I also introduced a new series made of resin-bonded sand, a disposable byproduct of the foundry next door to my studio. I sculpt discarded chunks of sand and then soak them with resin that can be dyed any color. I’m having fun experimenting with it and recently started having the foundry make me solid blocks of sand that I carve into larger furniture pieces. I dabble in a lot of things. It keeps it interesting.”

Shot on Location at Steven Haulenbeek’s Studio

The Chicago chef takes the farm-to-table approach he pioneered at beloved Lula Cafe to Marisol, the restaurant inside the redesigned MCA Chicago, set to open this summer.

“It started as an organic connection between some artist friends of mine and artists at the MCA. One of the things I love about being a chef is how many interesting and awesome people I’ve met. At Lula, we’ve always been a center point for the artistic community in Logan Square. It seemed like a natural fit for us to work together. It’s not just another restaurant gig; it’s a collaborative and creative project. We imagine what is possible, and then each of us has homework to do. Mine has to do with food and making people come together around the table. Food is an important part of museums these days. People recognize the importance of food to culture in general all over the world. There’s a street entrance to the restaurant, which makes it accessible even if you don’t go to the galleries. There’s going to be a coffee bar with pastries, sandwiches and lighter fare. You can come and hang out there. We have a sit-down restaurant, where the food will be vibrant and nuanced but also bright, delicious and seasonal. It’s nothing we haven’t done before at Lula; just more of it in a new space I can’t wait to engage with. The space itself is immersive and beautiful, and will inform how we approach everything we do.”

Shot on Location at The Museum of Contemporary Art

The city enters its Year of Public Art with a commissioner who has been nurturing the practice for decades.

“The Year of Public Art is an interesting idea—because shouldn’t art just be in our lives? Art has been segmented and segregated. It’s been framed. But it’s part of who we are. As a species, we are as wired for music and dance and for art and for the power of the word as we are for breathing. I don’t think that’s hyperbole at all, so why not try to make a city embrace that idea? We have one of the greatest concentrations of great public art in North America, and you could easily argue in the world. We don’t think of Buckingham Fountain as public art, but that’s what it is and that’s what it was when it was created. It’s funny how we see things in a different way with the passage of time. When the Picasso was unveiled 50 years ago—one of the first instances where the public art was not ceremonial; it was just art in a major public space—there was horror. Now for the first time, aldermen can spend $10,000 for public art. We said we’d match it, and all of a sudden we are unleashing forces. There will be well over $1 million in neighborhood art projects this summer. If you had told me six months ago that 40 aldermen would sign up, I’d have said no way. But there’s genuine enthusiasm. They see how this will bring value. There’s momentum.”

Shot on Location at the Chinatown Branch Library; “Universal Transverse Immigration Proclamation” Mural by CJ Hungerman, Commissioned by the Chicago Public Art Program

Real estate mogul Sean Conlon lends his expertise—and dollars—to Chicago home renovators whose projects are underwater on CNBC’s new show The Deed: Chicago.

“I’m a real product of the American dream. I truly came here with nothing. In Ireland, we have an excellent appreciation for real estate—that may go back to a hundred years ago when the Irish weren’t allowed to own our homes. So when I grew up and we had nothing else, the house was the most important thing. I still sell real estate first and foremost because it’s home. But I can tell you my philosophy in home flipping—I’ve done an awful lot of it: If it can go wrong, it will. While The Deed: Chicago shows the unblemished side of things, it also shows the real side of it. I lend real money, the emotions the people show are real and the wins are also real. My interactions with the flippers are very no-nonsense because at the end of the day, I’m pulling for them. I love an underdog. What I like about doing the show is that knowing exactly who I am allows me to combine all sorts of skills I have gained. I couldn’t have done this seven or eight years ago, or 15 years ago. I wouldn’t have been equipped to do it. I tend to work very hard for everything I have. I rarely had things aligned perfectly, ever. With this show, it seems, timing is perfect for me.”

Shot on Location at Sean Conlon’s Gold Coast Condo; Styling by Amy Geister


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