Denver Artist Spotlight: Hayley Barker's Realm of Fairy Horror Magic | Westword

Arts & Culture News

Local Artist Spotlight: Hayley Barker's Realm of Fairy Horror Magic

Hayley Barker creates ethereal, gothic and glittery clothing, soft sculptures and immersive installations.
Hayley Barker, also known as Starr.
Hayley Barker, also known as Starr. Hayley Barker
Share this:
Shimmering blue cloth flows down the walls of artist Hayley Barker's (also known as Starr) "Deep Sea" room in Spectra Art Space's current immersive experience, Spookadelia: Doubt's Echo, folding iridescent seastars and bejeweled freeform creatures in an ethereal embrace.

The space, which is Barker's take on the unsettling, sometimes horrific creatures that lurk in the ocean's blackened trenches, is a darker twist on her previous installation, the "Lagoon Room," which was part of Spectra's 2023 summer immersive, Nova Ita: Propagation. Like most of her art, "Deep Sea" was inspired by a video-game scene: the dim caves of the Depths in Zelda Tears of the Kingdom, full of surreal plants and macabre monsters.

Even her venture into the arts was prompted by video games; she says she was a "computer child," and started sketching her favorite digital characters before creating creatures of her own. Gothic fairies from Neopets took over her Microsoft Paint, accompanied by the soft pink forms of Kirby, Jigglypuff and Mew.
click to enlarge a room filled with blue and purple patchwork pillows
Part of the "Deep Sea" room at Spectra Art Space.
Hayley Barker
Although art quickly became her passion, Barker didn't think it was a viable career option and never dreamed of becoming a professional. "[People] just don't give a lot of credit to that type of work," she explains. "If you're winning and making tons of money doing art, you're succeeding. But if you're trying, then it's a fail.

"Honestly, I didn't want to be the 'art kid.' I was like, 'I'm embarrassed, I don't want to do that,'" she admits, adding that she dropped her hobby for most of middle and high school. "So I didn't really make anything for a while."

But Barker gave in to her inclinations and enrolled at Metropolitan State University of Denver for a bachelor's in art and sculpture in 2014. Her first textile project, a four-foot stuffed deer with string and plush organs spilling from its center, ignited her passion for soft sculptures.

"I've been a painter and a 2-D artist for so long, it just opened up a world of so many possibilities that you can do with 3-D art," she says, her eyes lighting up at the memory. "There are endless techniques, endless textiles in the world, endless ways you can use it and install it. ... It was so much more expansive to do sculpture. It felt like I was making art for the first time again."`

When she was twenty, Barker found another love: fashion. While working at Plato's Closet as a buyer, "I was able to price things myself, so I would price things for a dollar and then buy so much stuff," she recalls with a laugh. "I got really into curating outfits because I had so many clothes."
click to enlarge stuffed animal creatures
Hayley's soft sculptures, or "creatures"
Hayley Barker
Since graduating with her BFA in 2020, Barker has found a way to intertwine her love of fashion and the textile art with which she became enamored. She customizes thrifted clothing, stamps hoodies with screen-printed patches, spray-paints dresses with her signature abstract patterns and transforms tank tops into lace-up corsets. Crow and rat skeletons and pixies and "Made in Heaven" patches adorn her work, transforming each piece into wearable art that exemplifies her whimsical, ethereal and gothic style.

Barker screen-prints, spray-paints and sews clothes in batches of five to ten. "I kind of just respond to the pieces as I go along with the different processes," she explains.

Clubbing outfits are some of her favorite pieces to create. "Those are so fun to make," she gushes. "It's the style that I like — kind of darker, something you want to wear on a night out that's totally original and people are going to compliment you on how much you stand out."

The creatures, or soft sculptures, that abound in the Deep Sea room are equally fun to design. Barker says her audience usually loves the plush critters, and "the way that people respond to them is awesome," she shares. "It makes me really happy to see how enthusiastic people are about them.

"They're just really cute and cozy and make me feel good inside," she adds with a smile.
click to enlarge blonde woman in an immersive exhibit
Hayley Barker at her Novo Ita installation at Spectra in 2022.
Hayley Barker
The dichotomy of the Deep Sea room — the space is slightly unsettling, yet littered with the bedazzled plush creatures her customers adore — doesn't escape her. "I think it's funny, the way it's supposed to be a creepy, dark cavern...but then you have the stuffed textile things, and it's a really interesting juxtaposition," she reflects. "The soft shapes are never going to lend a creepy vibe. I enjoy that juxtaposition a little bit."

Barker vends her clothes, jewelry and creatures at various venues around Denver. She'll be at the Mercury Cafe on Wednesday, February 14, for the Rose Room Mini Market and a soon-to-be-announced fashion and music event at Lavender Art Collective on Tuesday, February 27.

"Someday...I would absolutely love to have a physical space," she concludes. "I could work and show my art and other peoples' art, too. I would love to have a collaborative space with other artists. There are a lot of amazing artists in Denver."

Mercury Cafe Rose Room Mini Market, 2199 California Street, 6-10 p.m. Wednesday, February 14.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. Your membership allows us to continue offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food, and culture with no paywalls. You can support us by joining as a member for as little as $1.