Julie Hedrick’s large abstract paintings reference light, pure color and limitless space: universal elements distilled from the Hudson River landscape. Following a series of canvases in which she spent a year or more focused on a particular color – white was followed by red, green and blue – she is now working in black-and-white, in what she calls the Alchemy series. However, the limited palette in no way suggests an abdication of color, but rather an intensity of light and mood.
The raw application of the two starkly contrasting tones and the intervening nuances of gray result in powerful effects. The white actually seems to give off light and reads as the sky. The black suggests storm clouds or a mountain ridge or treeline plunged in darkness. The paintings seem almost to quiver, as if they were literal atmospheres, attuned to each changing nuance of light.
“My work is always personal, and part of my personal existence is living near the Hudson River,” said Hedrick. “I spend my mornings walking along the edge of the river with the dogs, and that seeps into my inner vision.” It’s that inner vision, not outer appearances, that’s the subject of her work, which she calls “meditations.”
Noting that the Alchemy series is “the closest I’ve gotten to referencing the political situation in the world,” she said that the paintings posit a kind of resolution by transforming the polarization that’s causing so much conflict in the world into a union of opposites, much as the medieval alchemist sought to turn lead into gold. “It’s finding beauty in the blackness and whiteness and how they connect and contrast with each other.”
It’s fitting that Hedrick, who also is a poet – her husband, composer and musician Peter Wetzler, has composed music to recordings of her readings – paints and writes in a magnificent, light-flooded space called the Chapel Room. Part of a converted 19th-century church in Kingston’s Rondout, the space, with its two walls of tall Gothic windows and soaring ceilings, hasn’t completely lost its connotations of the sacred – though Victorian formalities have been subsumed by the chaos of large stretched canvases, oddball furniture and general dishevelment that signifies the artists’ dedication to the creative process. There’s also a palpable warmth, of a couple in sync with each other and their expansive artistic community, which to a large extent was born right here.
The couple met in 1983 in Hedrick’s hometown of Toronto, a year after she’d had her first solo show at age 22, and Wetzler was an improvisational experimental musician and composer living in New York City. “When we began collaborating, it felt like the same compatibility we’d felt when we first met: a visual and sound synergy,” Hedrick said.
The daughter of Canadian artist and sculptor Robert Hedrick, she’d grown up traveling back and forth between Toronto and Ibiza, Spain, in a contemporary art scene that instilled in her the language of abstract art. “Having conversations about color and form, art and philosophy and literature was completely normal,” she said. Money was sometimes tight – “As babies we’d be behind the curtain where my father was teaching life drawing on the other side” – but when she began her own art practice at age 14, it was never something that she worried about. At age 16 she was apprenticing with two noteworthy Canadian artists and experimenting with various media, including video. She attended the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and upon returning to Toronto became part of the local art scene, painting and teaching part-time.
When she met Wetzler at “a wild artists’ party on Valentine’s Day,” it was love at first sight. A week later, she visited him in New York and accompanied him to a dance performance by Bill T. Jones in Brooklyn. On the way back, “We were on the subway traveling under the East River and he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I said ‘Yes.’”
Hedrick was participating in a healing arts program – she had become interested in healing after her mother became ill – and so had to return to Toronto, but when she finished a year later, she moved in with Wetzler in his East Village apartment and got her massage therapist license. They also secretly married. The ceremony occurred at a gas station in his hometown of Hamden, Connecticut, which the justice of the peace owned and suggested as the place to meet. “People were bawling their eyes out, crying, and standing in line,” Hedrick recalled. The couple “officially” got married a year later in Canada and over subsequent years gradually let on to family and friends they had already been married.