With her new show, Hayley Barker talks art, epiphany and flowers
Hayley Barker’s Late Bloomer is an exhibition of eight oil-on-linen paintings that register as epiphanies — exultations in color and mark-making, states of existence. Barker’s pictures radiate, dissolving boundaries between figure and landscape. On first seeing this work, fluidity comes to mind — and a kind of occult wonderment at how the visual world might mirror our metaphysical states, and how to show that in paint. It’s a dizzying, sublime viewing experience. Her exhibition closes Sunday, December 8 at Bozo Mag, with the special “roving flat file” popup Barker Hangrrr, a showing of over 100 artists curated by Barker. We spoke with the artist about her approaches and her story.
L.A. WEEKLY: The painter Anya Roberts-Toney told me of a mystical experience you had which had a transformative effect on your work.
Hayley Barker: It was in Bosnia; I haven’t talked about this for a while.
Did it influence your recent work?
It’s kind of always there now. It’s hard to tell this story without talking about the context. I had ovarian cancer when I was around 35. Part of surviving and healing was to return to my spiritual roots. I was raised Catholic and have always wanted to visit Bosnia Herzegovina to see Medjugorje, a village in the mountains where shepherd kids would see the Virgin Mary back in the ’80s.
It seemed important to my healing process, although I couldn’t put a finger on why. But I went there to do drawings on the site where she’d appeared. Some American pilgrims said, “Go up on the hill at just the right moment, you’ll see the sun spin.” They say everybody who goes there at something like 5:28 p.m. sees this.
One night, I went and had this totally incredible, visual experience. It was profound. I also felt a kind of expansion, a pulsing in parts of my body. I’ve always been interested in the sun, this unifying force that’s also a shattering thing.
Taking that journey, you may not know why but it’s our job to go — not knowing the outcomes. It’s understanding the interior landscape as much as the exterior. Looking at your show, I get this clear sense that it’s the artist’s job to navigate those spaces.
You can’t help but find something extraordinary if you give yourself the space and time, the curiosity to go there without pinning it down or seeking something specific. Even if it’s just finding rest when you don’t expect to find rest. As an artist that paints and draws expressively, that’s always a super rich area for experiential information.
You have to give yourself over to that expression. Do you feel a continuity with historical art works or artists?
I wasn’t trained as a painter, so I come to painting in ways that have more to do with working with what you’ve got. I enjoy playing with what a self-portrait can be, playing with art-historical genres or forms, imagining how my own experience could fit into those worlds.
So many of the Romantic takes on women are flowery and, as much as I resist being tied to the feminine, I also imagine a possible future in which my day-to-day could be flowery. I mean, what would it be like to be relaxed, in a bed of flowers? Some of the paintings ask: Could it be this way, or could it be that way?
On your terms.
Yeah, and other paintings have more to do with an interior landscape or dreamscape. I’d like to think those worlds could mash up.
Do you remember your dreams?
I do. There are several landscapes that I go back to in my dreams. One of them is this field with crazy greenery, flowers, plants and stuff. There are also dead, fossilized animals in the field, as well as living ones. It’s just teeming. There are stones, amulets, ritual objects and if you dig into the soil you’ll find all these things.
I had one last night. I was digging around in some soil and it was like — OK, here are all the stones and amulets.
I see that magic, visionary stuff in your paintings. I was blown away by that Guston show at Hauser & Wirth and I know you were too. One of the things I was so floored by was the idea of ancient forms and objects recontextualized in today’s world. It’s a notion that things of today will eventually become stone. Now I’m seeing his forms as representing the eternal. I relate this to your dream with all the fossilized forms commingling with living ones.
That’s what time is, right? We’re all in this place that’s ancient, right now. We’re living on layers upon layers of things. And layers and layers of times to come are pressing upon us. The earth is alive and everything above is alive. People are fluid in that way. The older I get, the more I feel it.
Age is profound to me — you wake up the same person every day. In the little bit of study of I’ve done on consciousness, it’s wild to me that we keep being alive in the same head, the same body. It’s so strange. It’s beautiful.
It is. And totally weird. Julian Jaynes wrote that consciousness is just as likely to be sitting on the curb on the other side of the street, as it is to be, like, inside your skull. That makes me think, while what we share is culturally gleaned, what else do we share that’s not obvious?
Even the fact of matter: Our biological matter is so close to plants and soil. I think about elements as being always changing, full of life. It’s inevitable that time is one of those elements as well.
What inspired you to create Barker Hangrrr?
I was drawn to that project, thinking there needs to be a way to show the work of people I care about and want to celebrate, whether they’re here or not. I want to connect people and flatten out social stratification — as much as one white lady can. I got help from a lot of people.
And it’s all displayed on the floor, right? Changing the format.
Yeah, flat. Just bringing it to the ground, to the earth.
It changes how you perceive the work, too.
Totally. I wanted it to be handled, because I feel like drawing is intimate. That’s where I want it to be. I want to experience it intimately.