Photo by Nick Contini.
Heather is a powerful musician, frontwoman, visual artist and cultural creator. Her work is evocative and indelible. She lives in Chicago, where she is raising her daughter Evelyn. We talked about making art, being a mom, and dismantling patriarchy.
Please tell us about both your creative life/practice and your experience with parenting.
Before I became a parent I mainly painted. I still make visual art and am also now in a band. After I had Evelyn, I had less time available and had to be more focused when I did have it, so I moved more towards collage as my form of visual expression. Having a child affected me profoundly but I hadn't thought about it impacting my creative life at all really beforehand. I just figured it would work out and then it hit me really hard when the reality of my situation set in. Prior to having my daughter I had the luxury, which I completely took for granted, of doing whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted and I could work on art when I felt compelled to. I have been impacted a lot in terms of my time. I try to make use of every moment available to me. With a newborn everyone tells you to nap when the baby naps - well, for me, when she napped I ran to my desk to try to get some work done. Now she's almost six and I have to be much more deliberate about my time now - I can't do things on the fly. It was a difficult adjustment and it's still frustrating at times but I value my time so much more now. I only do things that I really want to do and it has made me more productive. I have just figured out how to make it work. I had a show in Belfast when Evelyn was six months old. I brought her with me which was an adventure! She was crawling around on the floor at the opening and playing with people's shoes. She was obsessed with this girl's leopard creepers - it was something! Having her has driven me harder in my work. I knew I had to focus and proactively decide not be a stay at home mother with a hobby on the side. I do get paid for my creative work and for pieces I make, and I began to start thinking about my livelihood more seriously. I had to make the time and resources I had count in a new way.
What were some of the fears you had (if any) about how becoming a parent would impact your creative life? Would you say now, in retrospect, that they were well founded?
I didn't have any fears. I didn't really think about it.
What does your creative life look like currently? How is it different from before you were a parent?
I say yes to almost everything now, for the experience, for the income, for a variety of reasons, I am more open to all the different ways I can express myself.
How do you carve out time and space for your creative practice as a parent?
When she is at school I try to get the things done that she doesn't like doing (filling online orders, going to the post office), but when I do bring her she paints or collages at a desk next to me. I bring her to band practice too if we can't practice while she's in school. She has a drum set there she plays on and she loves to sing too. I have a vocal processor she likes to mess around with. She comes with me to shows, art openings, she knows all my friends and there are often other kids.
What kinds of adjustments did you make to your creative practices when you became a parent?
I had to learn how to function with no sleep. I couldn't nap, as I said, the way people tell you to. I wanted that time for my projects. I got used to not sleeping from touring a lot though before I became a mother. Sometimes on Warped Tour I would only get two hours sleep a night - so I was used to that when she was born.
What do you tell your children, if anything, about the role of creativity in your life?
We've never had a conversation about it. Being creative is something she enjoys doing too, so it's just a part of our life. Her dad is in a band and our other friends are artists or creative people and have small businesses. To her, that is just the way it is. She is really into music and we go to art museums and openings. She has her own opinions about things. We went to a show once and she just went through saying, "that one I like," and looking at me and nodding. The last one she looked at and said, "unh unh!" It was amazing. She likes Andy Warhol! She touched The Last Supper at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh when she was three.
In what ways do you think being an active artist/writer/musician/creator helps make your parenting stronger?
I think it does make me stronger. I grow and experience things with her. One of my friends burned her a Hole CD and she loves it. She will mess up her hair and put it in her face when she listens to it. I got into it because of her and I started to like it. She understands that aggressive music is a way of expressing yourself that is different from the way that you are every day. I express myself that way and I love that bond of screaming lyrics together with her. She understands that creativity is a thing that should be happening. She knows people should be expressing themselves, and she knows that's different from day to day living. One example of this is that she knows it's okay to swear when singing along to a song versus in her daily life - and she makes that distinction in her own behavior.
In what ways do you think being a parent has made your artistic practice stronger?
Since having her I care less and less about things that don't matter and am more and more myself. That might be part of getting older too. Your aesthetic gets more defined. You care less and less about pleasing other people at all. I feel conviction in doing whatever the fuck I want, which I think is a good example to set for a child.
Are there other people who inspired you in the ways they approached creative work as a parent?
I am not exactly sure off the top of my head. As far as some artists I love, I've read their bios and they were terrible parents. A lot of people I know who are parents and artists or musicians are gone a lot and are not the primary caretaker of their children. It's harder to come up with examples of primary caretakers who are actively supporting themselves doing art or music.
What does your child think of your creative work?
She comments more on the band than my visual art. She told me she doesn't "really as much like goth" but that she"s "more into rock n roll." She likes her dad's band better than mine. [Editor's note: Evelyn's dad, Laura Jane Grace, uses feminine pronouns but goes by Dad.] I get it, they are more fun to sing along to, but she comes up with these really dreamy vocal melodies when she listens to my band and it always makes me smile. When she does comment on my visual art, she usually just says she likes it but never really anything beyond that. I bring work home from the studio a lot to work on when she goes to bed and she'll get up before me and see what I made and ask me about it, tell me if she likes it.
Do you think creative communities are friendly to children and parents and encourage their presence? Are there any ways these communities could improve? Feel free to be specific if you would like to.
In my experience, yes, definitely. People are usually really happy to see a child at any event I bring her to. There are often a couple of other kids too and they get to hang out at art openings, performances; there's an experimental electronic music series that I've brought her to a few times and she drew the artist performing last time. She feels comfortable.
How did becoming a parent affect your creative partnerships with other people?
I think I've collaborated more since having her. . .maybe this is part of getting older regardless of having a child, but I want to do all the things I've never done before . With her growing up, I see how fast time flies. I also have responsibilities I need to take care of and limited time, so I need to prioritize and do what I want to do or I will go crazy.
Do you think that some of the challenges parenting presents for creative practice are impacted by your gender? Please share any thoughts you have about this.
Yes. We live in a patriarchal society so it is easier for men. They aren't expected to fulfill the same role as a parent that women are. It is just a completely different thing. It's like the fucking 1950's. A number of fathers I know who, while having their own children in their care, will say to me that they are "babysitting." I tell them that is not what they are doing if it is their own child.
Has your creative community been supportive of you as a parent?
Definitely. Everyone loves having her around and is very welcoming and encouraging to her. I have a handful of really close friends who babysit and help me out tremendously who I am so grateful for.