At Home With Queer Artist Kayleigh Heydon - Par Femme

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by Maddy Woon

Kayleigh is a queer artist living and working from her studio at home in Thornbury, Melbourne. Originally from Manchester, UK, she moved to Australia over five years ago and began her career in art after completing a First-Class Honours degree in Art in 2014. Since then Kayleigh has produced sculptures, painting and video/performance works for solo shows and group shows around Melbourne and Sydney and collaborated with ethical and sustainable clothing label Kuwaii on their AW2020 print range. Her work is represented in one of Melbourne's favourite art and design concept stores, Modern Times.

As Melbourne goes back into lockdown, we speak to the bright and brilliant multi-talent about staying sane while WFH, letting go of old belief structures that don't serve you and what gets her in the mood to create.

Kayleigh wears the Par Femme Button Tee throughout

Where does your mind go when you hear the word ‘home’?
Two different places: Melbourne and Manchester. It's really hard to explain the connection and family I have in Melbourne. Everything I made here I carved out for myself from scratch because I wanted it, and It's where I feel most connected to and where I see my future. But Manchester is where I grew up, it's where my family is, it's where most of my good and bad memories are from growing up.

How much does your space affect your mood?
100%. There's no way around it—I can't relax or create if the space I'm in is cluttered, disorganised, stale, cold etcetera. The space becomes stagnant for me. I think you have to keep the fresh air flowing, crack a window, make your bed, do things to point yourself in the right direction... but that's just me.

Favourite thing to do at home?
Cooking and playing guitar—to me they are rewards. I'm a big busy body, always going somewhere, doing something, trying to get it all started and finished, running errands and meeting deadlines, so I see sitting in one place and practicing guitar a really therapeutic treat: no deadlines and no one to please, just myself. My love of cooking stems more from a pleasure of caring for others; I like to cook for myself but mostly see it as a sign of love and affection for others. I like cooking for my partner and my friends, making them full and happy and if they tell me it was delicious then I feel full and happy too!

What do you miss most about home when you’ve been away from it for a long time?
My bed, but mostly just an environment which is my own. In ISO version 1, I isolated at my partner's house for a lot of it, and it never occurred to me how much I would miss having my things around me—my bedding, my artwork, my coffee cups, the view from my bedroom window. Small things, but I guess big things when nothing around you is your own. So, I would say all the little things that enable small and important rituals in my life.

What gets you in the mood to create?
For me, creating comes in huge bursts. Sometimes it comes from a trip away, sometimes from a walk by the creek, sometimes by sleeping late and not showering. There's no one simple stimulus or ritual for me, I think it's more to do with finding out what my body and mind need, and allowing it to have that.

What does sensuality mean to you? 
Sensuality is important to me—it's an indicator for me that I am happy in my skin and I'm feeling relaxed and in tune with myself.

To see myself as a sexual being is an empowering and important thing for me. I think it's a big part of my identity and that's really powerful and unfortunately still quite rebellious in our society.

Are there any themes that you keep returning to in your art?
My last solo show was most definitely about female pleasure and autonomy mixed with female obedience. The show was titled 'The Pleasure Is All Mine'. I think the themes within this show are still themes I'm working through, but I've also been drawn to ideas of identity, memory and experience in my more recent works.

What’s a piece of advice about relationships/sex that you wish you knew when you were young?
There would be so much advice I would give to younger me, but it was advice that was given to me, and I ignored it, because I had to learn.
The most poignant piece of advice would be that, "abusers will not change their behaviour until they overcome their own trauma and its not your job to wait for that day to come."

When do you feel most like 'you'?

When I'm creating in any capacity—writing, painting, making music, drawing—and when I'm wearing lingerie. I find it to be the ultimate ode to myself, something that is honouring my body and a treat, saying, "Yes, you deserve to look this good underneath your clothes!"

The world can feel overwhelming and uncertain at times. What do you do to stay sane?
When it all gets too much, get some fresh air. I tend to leave my phone at home and don't listen to music so I can take in all the sounds and people watch.

I also think it's important to break up your day. I WFH already and if I'm feeling stuck or I'm waiting for paint to dry, instead of piling more work on and pushing myself I'll go grab some groceries from the market while it's quiet, put my washing on the line or make a coffee and have a break. You can't be 100% productive all the time, it's just not sustainable, achievable, or fair on yourself. I also do yoga from home too—my favourite teacher has put amazing free classes on his YouTube channel, Duncan Yoga, for lockdown and at 5pm everyday I stop working and do a class, otherwise the line between working and relaxing quickly blur. Before you know it, you'll be answering emails at 10pm in bed. Don't do it!!

Par Femme is all about pleasure, sensuality and empowerment. How has your relationship with these things changed over time? Why do you think these things have been taboo subjects, for women especially?
I think as a woman growing up, you're taught that you are a flower and you must keep all your self respect, and that sex is bad unless you're in love, and that your first time is important, and that you can't have sex with too many people because then you clearly don't respect yourself, and that doggy style makes you a sl*t, and that pubic hair is disgusting (the list goes on... ). 

It's like every part of your sensual life is monitored and dictated by this old structure of beliefs, created by men to police women, then taught to women who then absorb it as their own truth and chastise their female peers and children and it creates huge feelings of shame in women.

I think my upbringing was quite liberal. My parents spoke freely about sex, but the pressures and expectations of women was still so present on a societal level. I didn't have my first sexual experience until I was 18. I was confused a lot growing up—queer wasn't a word I knew, it was either gay or straight and I didn't know any gay people so I had nothing to compare myself to. My journey through life so far has been about honouring what I want and when I'm attracted to someone, gender is the least important part of the equation. Being in a loving relationship with a woman isn't a 'phase' and being with a man doesn't delete my queer identity.

Knowing and overcoming and loving all of these parts of myself has been a long and, luckily for me, amazing process. It's pushed me to see pleasure and sensuality through the lens of a 'free woman', not through the oppressive patriarchal systems that exist to police us. When you don't fit into the binary idea of what a woman is or should be (for the pleasure of a man specifically) you can almost remove the weight of those words from yourself (and if you do fit into that binary mould, you absolutely do not need to let those ideas weigh you down, either).

What things—both obvious and obscure—do you find sexy?
Hands, communication, tummies (all sizes), playing an instrument, eye contact.

What hopes do you have for the rest of 2020?
I'd like to knuckle down and apply for some art prizes this year! Other than that, cooking for my friends again, and maybe one day when the travel ban is lifted, going home to see my family.

All images by Kayleigh. You can (and should) follow her on Instagram at @kayleigh_heydon where you can find more examples of her beautiful artwork and a free isolation workshop on Saturday 15th at 1pm on Instagram LIVE 

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