Art & Entertainment, Culture, Feature Story

Unapologetically Errin: Interview with Detroit Artist Errin “Lightheart” Whitaker

On a late summer night sometime in August, I met with artist Errin “Lightheart” Whitaker at his Black Door art studio in the Fisher Building.

Located in Downtown Detroit, the Fisher Building has become home base for many Detroit creatives. Errin shares an office space-turned-art-studio with a few other Detroit artists, and occasionally the artists host open gallery nights for their family members, close friends, and other art lovers.

On this particular night, though, Errin wasn’t hosting an open gallery event at his studio. Instead, the Detroit-based artist was participating in an art project in collaboration with the 48 Hour Experience

THE 48 HOUR EXPERIENCE

For the project, Errin had to create art for 48 hours in his art studio. Errin told me he was paying homage to his late grandmother and one of his favorite artists Romare Bearden.

During the 48-hour time period, Errin worked on 10 collage pieces to honor what he called “the melanin and royalty inside my DNA.”

From Errin’s Instagram:


“During my @the48hr I started working on this particular piece: a 3ft collage on board dedicated to showing how “brothers” bond together to form each other. The piece gives reference to the relationship I have by
 blood to my own brother as well as the brotherhood I’ve formed with many brothers via experiences that link us.”

Art by Errin “Lightheart” Whitaker

With three out of five of my kids in tow, I arrived at Black Studio a little late. Thankfully, Errin was very kind to let me bring my children along for the interview.

Being a father himself to a young daughter, he understood my role as mother and the act of juggling career and parenthood simultaneously. When you work independently as I do,  your career often blends with motherhood. There really is no separating the two. 

Errin’s love for his daughter is often captured on his Instagram feed and Insta Stories. He likes to share photographs and short video clips of his little girl smiling or dancing to her favorite music.

Naturally, Zhen, my 5-year-old daughter, found Errin’s artwork and supplies fascinating and she wanted to check out everything.

I’m grateful for Elijah, my 18-year-old son, who also attended the interview with me. He kept my little ones busy while Errin and I chatted. 

Errin Whitaker, Detroit Artist
Errin “Lightheart” Whitaker

MEETING ERRIN “LIGHTHEART” WHITAKER

I first met Errin in September of 2017 at a Mack Alive event. My daughter Michala (age 16) went with me to the family event and Errin was featuring his artwork in a designated art section.

Michala and I were walking through the “Artist Village” when one of Errin’s paintings had caught my eye. I went over to his table and we struck up a conversation about his work. 

From our talk, I learned Errin attended graduate school in my home state of Tennessee. This immediately established a connection for me because it’s very rare I find someone in Detroit who has lived in Nashville or is familiar with my home. 

I’d like to say our first meeting established a friendship for us, and I have enjoyed learning more about Errin and his beautiful artwork these past few months.

It is with great pleasure that I share this interview with you. Although, admittedly, I was supposed to have written the interview a couple of months ago.

I hope my friend is understanding of my lateness just as he was when I had three busy children with me on the day of our interview. 🙂


Office door of Errin “Lightheart” Whitaker at the Fisher Building in Detroit.

ERRIN, THE NOMAD

Originally from Flint, Michigan, Errin has lived in Detroit for ten years now. He considers himself to be somewhat of a nomad because he is always traveling back and forth between the two cities. His mother, daughter, and aunt live in Flint while his father owns the popular Baker’s Keyboard Lounge in Detroit.

Errin told me he has been an artist for three years. He remembers creating his first piece of art when he was 5 or 6-years-old. His grandmother had him draw a dream he had of a man having a house on the moon. It’s an experience that he said has stuck with him all of his life.

With a background in community development and education, Errin graduated from Oakland University in Rochester. He also received his master’s degree in elementary education from Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tennessee.

Art by Errin “Lightheart” Whitaker

THE STRUGGLE OF ART AND JAZZ CONNECT

Perhaps his father’s work in the jazz entertainment industry had an influence on Errin as an artist. He told me he loves fusion jazz and often plays it for inspiration when he is creating art.

According to Errin, jazz shows struggle because it is trying to make sense.

“It’s not blues because it doesn’t have words,” he told me. “The notes are scattered. To me, that’s a representation of emotions and how they’re spread all over the place.”

“Art is a certain pain that comes along with being an artist or looking at art,” he continued. Errin believes whether you are an admirer of art or an artist, art can convey a message of many emotions such as happiness and pain.

Connecting the art theme of struggle to the African American culture, Errin believes “the struggle is major for the African American community.”

“If we can appreciate the struggle,” Errin said, “we can see the beauty. Romare (Bearden) said you do something and then you improvise. It’s never going to stay the same and then you improvise. That’s what we’ve (African Americans) learned to do as a community and make changes.”

Art by Errin "Lightheart" Whitaker of Detroit, Michigan
Art by Errin “Lightheart” Whitaker

BEAUTY, SELF-LOVE, AND SOCIAL INJUSTICE

Errin and I discussed the Black Lives Movement (BLM) and the strong theme of struggle within our culture. He’s a strong supporter of social justice and he likes to create art to speak out against social injustice issues. 

He considers himself to be a “big into beauty and self-love” and also “big into melanin” where he creates art about black people, for black people and anybody who can appreciate his work.

When I asked Errin what his thoughts were on BLM, he said, “the movements never stop, they just change.”

He went on to explain he believes BLM is “an evolution of people being tired. It’s like, I’m with it, you know. Then again, it’ll change and that’s just the way life is.” 

Errin believes in love and strives hard to connect with people on that level. He believes in keeping the peace and spreading the love. “I feel like people don’t love on each other enough,” he told me. “I love hard. I love a lot of people and give my heart away.”

He said he wears his heart on his sleeve “so you know when you do that over a course of time, your heart becomes a scar. It just scars. Now I have to make it a very deliberate thing to work on my heart. I’m not going to stop loving people. I’m not going to stop opening my heart to people like I do.”

Painting of President Barak Obama by Errin “Lightheart” Whitaker

LIGHTHEART’S SPIRITUAL AWAKENING

One of Errin’s life goals is to have a heart big enough to love the world. It may sound like a cliche, but to Errin, having a big heart to love everybody he meets is very important to him. He wants to “just love every person I meet. It’s one thing to say that, but it’s another thing to live it out to its fullest.”

On why he refers to himself as “Lightheart” he shared with me his spiritual awakening which led to the name creation:

Errin was on a spiritual retreat in the wilderness in Kalamazoo, Michigan. he had been fasting for three days with no food or water. During this time, he had a vision where he heard his mother’s voice and she was congratulating him on his work. He said her voice sounded like an “Omm” (think of the sound you would make when you meditate). 

“It shattered all of the petrifiedness that I was feeling,” he told me.

When Errin was growing up, he felt like he had a petrified heart as if his heart was encased with stone or wood. In his vision, Errin saw his mother congratulating him was for making the sacrifice to fast and “to get myself together.”

After experiencing the vision, Errin said a hummingbird flew up to him. “We made this eye contact in the short little span of time– telepathic communication…it just all came clear to me. I decided to acknowledge myself as ‘Lightheart’.” 

“I even got a tattoo on me,” he said as he showed me his Lightheart tattoo.

Artwork by Errin “Lightheart” Whitaker

 NO SUGARCOATING IT

During my talk with Errin, he gave me a lot to think about. He let me know he doesn’t like imposing on people’s beliefs and he is respectful of what other’s believe. “You’re going to know when you meet me what I believe. I’m never going to sugarcoat what I feel.” 

“Everybody’s going to be black,” he told me. Perplexed I asked him to elaborate on what he meant. 

Through his personal studies of different religions and history, Errin told me he believes “we all come from Africa. Creation evolved from one place. It all makes sense it would be from African civilizations.”

Art collage by Errin “Lightheart” Whitaker

ERRIN’S THOUGHTS ON DETROIT & FLINT

On Detroit experiencing a rebirth, Errin said:

“Most definitely. I think we’ve seen some hardships in the city of Detroit. Just like everything in life. you hit bottom. There ain’t no place to go but up.” He said he thinks Detroit is seeing “the upward mobility of a city.”

On Detroit influencing his art, Errin says the city does have some influences on his art. But he is also influenced by his day to day experiences and who he meets and what he sees. “It all influences you,” he said.

Who are three of Errin’s greatest art influences?

African American artists Roman Bearden, Betye Saar, and Charles White

Thoughts on Flint, his home city:

“Flint is like the magazines I used (for his collage art). It’s been flipped through and thrown away. It’s just passed up and looked over,” he said.

“They let whatever happen to it, happen to it. They didn’t care about checking up on things like they do in other cities. It’s just one of those places that are ignored. There was a reason why Flint had gained the attention of other people.”

Art by Errin “Lightheart” Whitaker 

ON SURVIVING IN FLINT

“You have to have a couple different ideas. You have to be very resourceful. You have to learn to figure it out, quick. You gotta have a lot of irons in the pot. You can’t just be relying on one thing.”

“Detroit is a city of hustle. You find one thing and you hustle at that one thing. You gotta be quicker than the next one. You gotta be faster. you can hustle in Detroit.”

“But in Flint, it’s not necessarily about the hustle. It’s a part of it, but it’s more so about like being a jack of all trades type of situation. Having a lot of different things going on at one time.”

Since I’m not from Detroit or Michigan, Errin explained further what he meant. He told me it had always been “common knowledge” to him that Detroit is a city of hustle and to survive in Flint you have to be resourceful.

He explained the struggle that is found in jazz music, art, and the city of Flint are all connected.

Art by Errin “Lightheart” Whitaker

PAIN AND STRUGGLE CREATE BEAUTIFUL ART

Errin’s aunt, who is also from Flint, taught him at a young age to be resourceful. He said his aunt taught him, “You gotta be out here getting it in a lot of different ways.”

His aunt believed it was important to have four different incomes. “I guess maybe that’s just something I learned from her growing up in Flint,” he told me. “I’m down here in Detroit hustling, but in Flint, I’m figuring out different things.”

“That’s how it is, you know,” he went on to say. “It gives me duality. But I can’t be in either one of them. I can’t just be in Detroit and I can’t just be in Flint. It makes it tougher for me because I try to be in two places at one time.”

“But it also makes beautiful art,” Errin said. “The pain and the struggle helps me to create, you dig.”

Art by Errin “Lightheart” Whitaker

To connect with Errin “Lightheart” Whitaker, you can follow him on his Instagram here. Special thanks to Errin for taking the time to interview with Good Life Detroit!

All art is by Errin “Lightheart” Whitaker. Photographs of Errin’s art was taken by Jennifer Hamra with permission from Errin.


  ALSO, CHECK OUT ON THE BLOG:

1 thought on “Unapologetically Errin: Interview with Detroit Artist Errin “Lightheart” Whitaker

What are your thoughts?