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.
"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."
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.
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.