Austen Brantley & His Great Talent
Whitdel Arts, a non-profit gallery located on the corner of Hubbard St. and Porter St. in southwest Detroit, has been showcasing “emerging” artists for the past three years.
Ceramic sculptor Austen Brantley is the artist who is currently occupying the space.
“It’s pretty cool,” Brantley said. “I just turned 19 and giving my people, giving Detroit my artwork already at a young age is really phenomenal.”
As he noted, Brantley turned 19-years-old this past October. But you wouldn’t guess by watching the way he carries himself and listening to him speak. He acts and speaks like someone twice his age.
“He’s young, but he doesn’t act young,” said Jerome Patryjak, who took a class with Brantley. “He’s just very mature, and knowledgeable and very open about sharing his knowledge.”
Brantley has been sculpting for four years after discovering his talent in an elective class in high school. Since then, he has become a well-renowned artist in the Metro-Detroit area. He’s been featured in newspaper articles and was even the focus of a segment on WDIV. His work has been featured in multiple exhibitions, including one at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.
“It’s a very empowering feeling when you can give your art and sort of your voice to Detroit,” he said.
His “Emerging Artist” exhibition at Whitdel Arts is his sixth, according to Brantley. The gallery serves as an artistic space where people in the community can visit to not just view art, but have a place to express themselves.
“In addition to showing artists,” Whitdel Arts president JenClare Gawaran said, “We’ll do some programming for youth in the area. We offer activities for young artists in the area or just our neighbors to give them more outlets to express themselves. And maybe in a way that will help them to become an artist in the future or just to show them there’s other ways to express yourself in a positive way.”
The gallery’s staff is made up of all volunteers who have a background in art.
“We have our regular jobs during the day,” Gawaran said, “and then at night we do all this stuff – put on shows [and] look at artwork. All of us here are creative individuals.”
Brantley sent his proposal to be featured in the “Emerging Artist” space about a year ago – exhibits in the space are planned a year in advance, according to Gawaran.
“Him being so young, he’s very talented in rendering the figure, we were really impressed with the scope of his work,” Gawaran said. “Also, with how motivated he is to promote his work and show in other venues, it’s just really impressive.
“It’s really exciting to see where he’ll grow into and where he continues on.”
Brantley’s inspiration for his work comes from “looking at different cultures; historic and classic art pieces for source material,” according to information from Whitdel Arts. His main source of inspiration comes from African-American artwork, he said. But he can find inspiration in anything and at anytime. And when he gets inspired he acts quickly.
“I can look at anything and get inspired in some way,” he said. “I could be sleeping and then I’ll just think of something and I have to get up. I’m impulsive to the point where I have to get out of bed and sculpt right there so I don’t lose an idea because in the morning it might be something different.”
When Brantley sculpts, he says he sculpts from the perspective of his audience.
“I’m trying to see from other people’s perspective when they see my work,” he said. “What will they see first? What’s the focal point? How should I do the eyes? It’s those details.
“Breaking it down is pretty simple. When you see it, though, it seems complex, but when you break it down it’s simple. It’s key elements – the emotion of the piece. I’m trying to capture emotion. That’s one of my main focuses in my artwork.”
And he does a phenomenal job at doing so.
“I like the expression that he’s able to put into his sculptures,” said Nick Pizana, a volunteer and board member at Whitdel. “The way he’s able to capture emotion, the different faces and subtle body movements in some of the figures. It’s really cool that he can pick up on a lot of the subtle parts at such a young age.”
He’s young, he’s talented, and Brantley has big plans for his future.
“Becoming a renowned artist on an international level” is a part of those plans. And with his talent and motivation, he can make it happen.