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Flint, MI — In his own words, Errin Whitaker or Brother Lightheart as he is known, calls himself “an African King.” He is a Flint native and resident, a father, a creative artist, but mainly a teacher. Lightheart has made artistic waves and headlines with thought-provoking and spiritually crafted paintings. With a focus on African people and spiritual connectivity, his work is featured locally and throughout the country. Now in 2020, Lightheart is making sure that his artwork stands the test of time and inspires generations to come.
It’s been about three years since we saw each other. Explain what has happened personally and creatively.
Location has been a big part of what’s taken place within the last three years. I relocated from the Metro Detroit area back to where I was born and raised here in Flint, Michigan. Creatively I have found my voice, which has enabled me to narrow down where I’d like to move my artwork in terms of my particular style. You know seeing my artwork 30 years from now. Being here in Flint has enabled me to focus more largely at creating in a space where I feel rooted, but yet feel centered.
Moving back from Detroit was a sort of rerooting yourself within yourself?
It was just a natural transition. I just elevated and rebirthed. I connect to the thought of death and life taking place simultaneously. For me [it’s] literally in a sense, spiritually, and artistically very regularly. What took place was the rebirth when I relocated from Detroit to Flint.
From what I’ve seen on Instagram your artwork has tremendously shifted. In the beginning there was an African centered focus. Is this still true?
It’s always going to be connected to who I am as a human being. Being that I’m an African American King, if you will, a large part of my work is going to be centered around royalty and African Americans. Where I am now is focused on everybody being able to connect to my work. If you see with your naked eyed a piece of work that I created, you might see a Black man or a Black woman. When you look at it from a more spiritual standpoint, you see the soul of the work. That’s when you see yourself no matter what your race, ethnicity, religious background, sexual orientation, or what have you. You can always find a way to connect to my work.
You say that you found your voice which is interesting. When we first met, it seemed that you already found it and were very confident in it. What’s changed?
To be honest, when you start something new, you are in a more arrogant space. Stepping out there you puff up your chest to give yourself that extra boost to even begin something in the first place. What has taken place is transmuting that energy of being somewhat arrogant to a space of confidence.
So the evolution of your creative endeavors required a lot more from yourself.
I’ve experienced trials and errors with my craft. When you speak out at first, you tend to say things that, you know, sound good to you. But when you hear it, you sit with it, get silent, listen and figure out, well this is what I meant, but this is not what I said. Then you can mature with your words. Your meaning becomes greater with time, and then you can find your voice.
Those are some incredibly wise words.
This is definitely a marathon, not a sprint. You will have times throughout your career where you will hit moments where you get that burst energy that will allow you to sprint. But at large you gotta keep on running. You gotta keep on pushing. I stick to a scripture that says: the race is not given to the swift, but to those who endureth to the end. I plan on going the long way with this craft and going to the end of my time in this physical body.
Recently you did partnered with the Crepe Company in downtown Flint. How was that experience?
Well, you can get kind of rabbit holed and ride things until all of a sudden the wheels fall off. The Crepe Company was a beginning vehicle for my art career here in Flint. But, it wasn’t a house. It was more or less a vehicle. Sometimes when you are driving, you have a tendency to stop focusing on what you’re driving and more so looking at what’s ahead and what’s outside. You stop looking at that thing which transports you and start looking towards where you want to go.
The nature of your vision changes.
[They] allowed me to be able to see exactly where I want to go; where I would love to see my artwork years down the line. It took me to a place where I was able to jump light years ahead and say to myself, why settle? Shoot for the moon and stars and if you miss you’ll land on one of them eventually. I want to see my work in the Flint Institute of Arts, which is one of the many museums I have set intentions of having my artwork placed in. When I transpire from this physical body, my work will live in a space that people can appreciate and get what they need to get from it.
When we do things as creative beings, we infuse our energy into what we create. When people purchase or look at your artwork, what are some things you want them to receive?
Just being able to connect with it in some shape or form. Being able to take the artwork and look at who they once were, who they are presently and who they like to be. I think we’re all evolving human beings and we’re all attempting to get to a more elevated space. For those who subscribed to just being, they can take the artwork in the literal sense. For those who are ascending, they can utilize my work to propel them to a higher level.
In this new phase in your career, do you feel people have a greater appreciation and understanding for your artwork?
Most definitely. I find that to be the case from my experiences. You have people who have suggestions that could be used as guidance, or it could potentially be a distraction. I find that people are focusing on me as an artist and on my work. At first I was hearing people say, ‘I liked when you did this, and I liked when you did that.’ Or, ‘you ever thought about doing this?’ Now people are looking at my work saying, ‘I like what you’re doing right there.’
Ah! There was this shift from suggestions to appreciation.
That’s the present day work. That stems from me as an individual. Where I’m at, I’m focusing on the now and not so much on the future. I’m being present and being centered.
In today’s world, being able to tell your own story is a crucial thing. For you, why is telling your story something you feel you need to do?
That’s always key for any person to utilize written information as well as whatever craft that you use. As my work evolves, so shall the stories whether it be told by myself or other individuals who witness my work. Hopefully one day [there’s] a book that tells my story in that capacity as well. That’s why I tell my story.
Talk about a little bit of the behind the scenes of the creation of your artwork. What sort of space do you have to be in, if any, to create?
No two days are the same. Even when I revisit a piece, I’m looking at it from a different space in place in time with that side of myself and from the literal sense. To answer that question, I don’t have to be in any particular space. I don’t mean to be cocky, but that’s confidence and knowing that every time I pick up a pen, pencil or brush, I know that I’m a vessel. Whatever spirit needs to come through me, whatever energy it needs to utilize me, that’s what’s going to come out. The key for me as an artist is to always remain open.
For many creative people and aspiring entrepreneurs, there’s generally a focus on making money. Switching the narrative, what ways have you been blessed non financially?
There’s a space in Detroit, shout out to Detroit Breakfast Club, where you go, get two minutes and you showcase your work. You allow people to see your work, purchase your work and even afterwards, critique your work. That really showed me that it’s more than just the cash. It’s about the influence. Going to that particular venue allowed me to be opened up to art exhibitions and gallery spaces. Different avenues which come when you don’t not necessarily sell your work, but you allow your work to be seen.
What mental shift happens in those spaces?
You develop confidence from standing up in front of an audience. Then you can speak to your work, speak about your work and showcase who you are as an individual. Those things become what’s really important.
When you look back on it, is there anything in particular you would say to the person you once were?
Yeah. I would tell my old self not to be so hard on yourself. Don’t beat yourself up so much. I think sometimes we focus on who we should be, where we should be going, and what we should be doing that we’re not gentle. It’s interesting because a lot of my spiritual teachers always share that thought with me.
It reminds of a friend who used to say to me, ‘have compassion with yourself.’
I’ve learned that to be key. You take it one day at a time and know that this too shall pass. You know that your ancestors and the most high will always be there for you, and you do the best that you can. You focus less on what you think you should be doing, who you think you should be, where you aspire to be, and you just be grateful.
Would you consider that to be words of wisdom from yourself to other artists, other creative people, and the younger generation?
Absolutely. With mental health being where it’s at right now in society, I think a lot of times we have a tendency to be extremely hard on ourselves. We have these breakdowns that sometimes spiral out of control. You know go down rabbit holes or isolate or tap into escapism. For artists [especially] because oftentimes we have so many things come at us. I can speak for myself, when you’re constantly a vessel, it can take you out of place and space that can be dark at times. It’s not being afraid of those dark moments and those dark spaces, but learning how to tap in and find a light within in order to externally extract that light to other people.
Ase. Who and or what gives you inspiration or gives you pause to go back and rethink and reflect?
I’m definitely influenced by Tashir Turner aka Sheefy McFly. He’s a brother who’s hot on the scene right now. I’m definitely influenced by Tylonn Sawyer, who is another Metro Detroit artist. I like his confidence. Pauly Everett, a Flint underground kid. I like Pauly because I know Pauly’s story. I appreciate his hustle. I’m going to have to definitely say I’m influenced by, and it sounds cliche, but forget it, Basquiat.
That would be a great person!
A lot of ways, yes, but then no. Last but not least, my grandmother, Mary Farris Graham. That’s my greatest influence. Without her none of this art stuff would even be. My first memories of doing anything art related was via her when she posed the question, ‘what does it look like being a man on the moon?’ And asking me, and another friend of mine who she was babysitting, in her kitchen at five years old, to draw that picture.
Wow that’s deep.
I can vividly remember what I drew. That sparked me to be able to think light years ahead and say that one of my goals is to be one of the first people to build a house on the moon. May sound crazy, but you know, even if it’s not in the literal sense, maybe one day I create an installation of what it may look like to have a house on the moon.
To which we’ll all be in celebrating. To wrap up this conversation, I have two final questions. My first question is: what is imagination to you?
If anybody would have the answer it’s you.
Imagination is being able to see the unseen. To hear the unspoken. Two smell what has no smell. To feel what can’t be touched. Imagination is divine substance.
For my last question: if spirit and the ancestors could paint, what would you think they create?
Everything you see before your eyes. You, me, everything in between. I think that’s already saying. I think the most high was the first artist and everything we see every day in some shape or form, that’s projected from my mind to our reality, and the physical forms, is us being utilized by the ancestors in the most high. Everything we see day in and day out from the moment we open our eyes when we wake, till the moment we close our eyes and when we go to sleep. And then even now, which is in between the dream state, it’s all just the most high end ancestors painting away. So we are the masterpieces that are constantly being reconstructed and recreated.