Austen Brantley is a Detroit-based sculptor who uses clay to form expressive and lifelike Black figures. Brantley was first introduced to the medium through a high school art class. “I was looking for an easy A and found out I was good at sculpture,” he jokes.
Brantley counts classic Renaissance artists like Michelangelo as his influences at the time. This comes through in his works which exhibit a lot of the iconic artist’s elements, from the intensity in the figures’ faces, to the sense of weight and movement in their bodies.
“I want people to feel an emotion in the piece. I want them to become the object, in a way.” After high school, Brantley began exhibiting his work locally, starting in small galleries on Livernois and building his audiences. Later, he studied sculpture in Italy and Mexico.
Lately, he has been working less with galleries and has focused more on creating public works such as memorials and monuments in public parks. His most recent work was a tribute to Negro League Baseball player and World War II vet Ernest Burke, done for a park in Maryland.
“Doing the sculpture, I got to learn so much about his life. As an artist you have to know history,” Brantley says. “It was powerful for me to think about the struggles he had to endure, fighting in a war for a country that wouldn’t let him play baseball with them. For my name to be synonymous with his now, through the sculpture, is a huge honor.”
Currently, Brantley is working on a new piece for a park here in Detroit, which depicts a young man holding a flower. “It’s about manhood in Detroit – a version of that that’s more gentle.” Brantley says this piece will represent manhood in a way that’s more about finding beauty than showing power.
“I was thinking, since it’s across the street from a school, (the children) should see it as a reflection of themselves, and I want them to see something beautiful. I think it will show another perspective of what we can be.”