Artist: Heidi Barlow
Location: Anthology Coffee
HB – Coffee (black)
SRS – Coffee (black)
Is it just me, or has everyone decided to quit their job in the last two weeks? I can’t decide if this is a sign that Detroit’s creative economy is in the kind of turnaround that inspires caged creatives to slip the shackles of corporate hegemony, or if the stars are simply in the kind of alignment that reminds us we weren’t born on this Earth to sell out, or if it’s just hot and we’re cranky being kept inside against our will.
What I can say for sure is this: a real artist will never be happy at a day job. For normies, a day job is quietly or overtly disenfranchising and demoralizing, but for artists, it is living torture. You can feel your life being sucked away, minute by minute, while your mind races with all the better things you could be doing. Heidi Barlow is clearly one of those, because about 10 minutes into our conversation over coffee, she mentions putting in her notice last week, and her whole face lights up. You can see the weight shift off her shoulders. She is making the jump—the kind of leap of faith without which, no one ever gets free. Well done, Heidi! Never look back!
I think we can all relate to the wish of having an earlier understanding of some fundamental truth—the common phrase is, “If I knew then what I knew now.” This is a sentiment that Heidi expresses, as we talk about developing an independent sense of self, and how a relationship can be stifling to that process, especially for young women.
“I wish I’d have met someone like me when I was going into college,” she said. “Who gave me the advice: Do whatever you want, and if anyone tries to tell you what to do, tell them to fuck off.” (I mean, by definition, she would have had to tell this person to fuck off, but we get the drift)
From where I’m sitting, at 27, Heidi is way ahead of the curve. She and her primary interlocutor, Shaina Kasztelan, share a home studio, an eclectic multi-media art practice, and a burgeoning worldview that centralizes the development of their own collective and individual visions. In the last year or so, both these young women have bailed out of their steady day jobs, in unsteady pursuit of a self-determining creative practice. Heidi is frank about the steep learning curve, and the way that it challenges her natural introversion. Learning how to ask for money, learning how to handle the abrupt disconnects when you disappoint people who expect you to work for free, learning how to accept rejection with grace are all parts of this career path, and the fact that Heidi is developing them at such an early stage bodes well for her prospects. She is a lovely and self-aware young woman.
As we talk, I’m mentally beginning to group Heidi and Shaina in with a cohort of young female Detroit-based artists, including Michelle Tanguay, Torri Smith, Lucy Cahill, Louise ‘Ouizi’ Jones, and others, who are doing intensive identity work around female self-presentation. Heidi’s work is a fun mash-up of dollar store finds, sparkly plastics, and drippy faux jewels—she and Shaina have similar styles, though Shaina’s work is more figurative and branded, Heidie’s more about form and color—a literal melting pot of feminine materials and signifiers. So too, Heidi’s principles are deeply pro-female (“Most men kind of bother me,” she confesses), and her early grasp on the true gift of female support and companionship is another way she is light years ahead of a lot of women in their 20s.
Something about the balance between extra-girlyness and fierce independence speaks well for the future of female empowerment. After a studio visit, where I am afforded some sneaky previews from Heidi’s upcoming solo show at KO Gallery—a new space supported by the Heavenly Dogs Art Collective, of which Heidi and Shaina are both members—I snap a picture of these young artists and friends on the back porch of the live-work space they share. They present their own variations on colorful cartoony tattoos, thick eyeliner, micro-shorts, all of which is a clear offshoot of their own desire for self-presentation, not in any way concerned with a male gaze. Femme-nists!!
“You know, when you meet a younger girl, and you see her working through some stuff that you’ve already figured out, and you just want to help her get it?” Heidi asked me.
Girl, yes, girl – I know exactly what you mean. Keep leaping, keep shining. You’ll make it.
Whuuuut YES it’s been a long time since I did a Breakfast with the Artist, but that doesn’t mean you missed your chance.