Barrett Keithley sees barber shops in the Black community as places to “get your news and meet your mentors,” places that “were and continue to be a real-life form of social media.”
Also, they’re “where you can be yourself,” says Keithley, 35, an artist who grew up in Morgan Park and remembers going to different barber shops as a kid.
“Whenever I walked in to a barber shop,” he says, “there was an immediate sense of respect and positivity.”
Keithley says that feeling is what he tried to convey with a mural he painted in November in the 5100 block of West Madison Street at Head Quarters Barber Academy and also near Adams Barber Shop.
It features a boy’s face and fists protruding from a tilted crown.
“Hopefully, the message being received is that, no matter what color, no matter what person you are, if you have a dream, put your crown on, and go get it,” Keithley says. “It ties into the barber shops because, when you go to a barber shop, the barber is there to make you look good and feel good.”
The artist says he hopes to inspire the “same confidence.”
For Kevin McIntyre, Sr., chief executive officer of the barber academy, the person “in the mural is looking up to the sky and, as we all know, the sky is the limit. I think that everyone who looks at it will be able to take something from it.”
Keithley painted the mural to help promote a new Lyric Opera of Chicago production, “The Factotum,” that’s set in a Black barber shop on the South Side.
Keithley also painted two other murals — one in the 400 block of East 79th Street, next to a barber shop, and the other at Lake Street and Cicero Avenue — for the opera company.
“Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I didn’t really see many murals, especially any on barber shops,” Keithley says. “To be able to put my artwork out and have it represent, you know, folks like me, it gives me a lot of joy.”