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HEATHER VERNON
PHILOSOPHER, ARTIST, ETERNAL STUDENT

Written + Photographed By Kelley Mullarkey  |  Video Produced By Sean Stillmaker

The compulsion to disrupt ideologies is a blurry zone ridden with desire and anxiety. We teeter-totter between blatant obedience and the yearning to free ourselves from the embedded image and morality norms bestowed upon us from the reining dominatrix of social code.

Trickling down from governments and families to catwalks and cinematic experiences we’ve become a culture increasingly jaded by over-exposure to visual stimuli. While constructing a sleek exterior of what life is supposed to look like we’ve ended up in a dangerous place of brutal scrutiny.

Truth-seeker, dreamer, artist and master of “gourmet fashion” Heather is a modern day Vasari and art therapist in training. If you were to take a life course with her, a lifetime wouldn’t be long enough to absorb her knowledge and insight.

Clothed in a vintage indigo dress, effervescent Black Milk peacock leggings and royal purple overcoat personally splattered with industrial metallic paint, Heather uses her form of sartorial expression to showcase the impact of multi-narratives. Through her personal style she examines how fashion can be transversal, incorporating therapeutic aesthetics such as painting and sculpture alongside various attitudes such as disruption and gender bending.

“Each of us can add to a developing history. It’s about not using art as a weapon. It’s about asking how art can help you. Style is a way to say and address those complicated things,” explained Heather.

Deconstructed from the makeup of the modern family puzzle and bred into a conundrum of ideologies surrounding hippy idealism, Heather was born in Indiana but spent a large portion of her childhood growing up in an assortment of communes, adapting to each fleeting place littered with colorful personalities.

Definitively labeled as alterative environments where everyone refered to each other as brother and sister, these were places where everything had to be made with love – a sacred haven where adults “handed down the peace pipe while passing on progressive literature and records.” A melting pot where people meditated, made art and congregated with the local owners from nearby ma and pa shops trading honey oat bars long before the arrival of Whole Foods.  

From communes in Chicago’s Roger’s Park to creative ambivalent living, her parents, who followed a guru around the country, took Heather and her younger siblings to holy festivals saturated with free love, cosmic coolness and high wattage psychedelic vibes.

Introduced to the all white clothing parties of 1977 where pounds of glitter were splashed on the attendees in a dreamlike incubation of experimentation, Heather subconsciously formed a kinship with the abstract realm of performance art and fashion around her in homemade velvet paisley dresses dancing to the beat of her generation.

“Look at these wacked environments I’ve been in! That was my tribe," Heather reminisced as we sat in a circle listening attentively to the vivid portrait of the past she painted. "I learned how to view the world through a multifaceted lens. I gained an understanding of how performance art emulates the flow of the soul and transgresses into our lives.”

Perpetually festering with the notion to continue going against the grain after communal living, challenging a world mainly viewed through rose-colored glasses, Heather spent her days as a high-school teenager reading Sylvia Plath, listening to Duran Duran and obsessively lining her bedroom walls with high fashion collages.

After meandering through her undergraduate career and graduating with a BFA in photography from Kansas City Art Institute in Missouri, Heather made her way up the east coast, settled in at Yale University School of Art and received a masters in sculpture.

Throughout the course of her artistic evolution Heather toyed with blurring the lines between performance art and life, making dresses out of bandages, finding outfits in dumpsters and debuting them on her train rides home to weary passersby.

“I enjoy using theory and postmodern philosophy as a tool. I’m a poet trying to have a poetic alliance with the world around me. When I dress it’s for poetic experience. I’m using art as personal self psychology,” explained Heather.

After a 10-year bout in NYC, going through the cycle of marriage, motherhood and divorce all while remaining a martyr to her art, Heather felt artistically broken and disenfranchised.

In attempt to reassemble the pieces Heather moved back to Chicago where she was finally able to let go of the idea that a city, a landscape or a certain group of people determined how good of an artist you are.

In a pair of suspenders worn backwards, checkered leggings, bangles for days and the highest of Jeffery Campbell wedges known to man, a Heather staple, she elaborated on how she attended art therapy groups as a means to heel and repair herself.

“I began doing performance art in a lot of DIY type of spaces and passionately pursuing and understanding how art therapy gave me permission to go deeper with my work. You can work with trauma though art in a way that you can’t with cognative therapy.’”

Currently on the path to receive her second masters, this time in art therapy from the School of the Art Institute Chicago, Heather is interested in the larger psychosocial reasons for creating art and how she can fuel that into her patients’ recovery using mediums such as performance art and fashion.

“You can either choose to stagnate or generate. I think if science and art talked more we’d all get to experience a more cohesive social formula.”

A chronicler of life dyeing the world with heaps of color manifesting in her expanding schools of thought, Heather uses fashion and her art as an existential exploration of what it means to be here in this otherworldly atmospheric sphere. 






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