Judith Hert is a painter and writer who moved to Truchas, New Mexico with her husband in the spring of 1999. She wondered aloud when we were talking the other day if any place one moves to ever turns out the way they think it will. It sure didn’t for her. Six weeks after coming to Truchas her husband died, and a year later she was diagnosed with cancer.
Thinking back, she’s not entirely sure why they ended up here. She laughs, saying, “It is about as bizarre a choice as one can make, don’t you agree?” They’d vacationed often in Santa Fe and one day, while driving the High Road, they missed the turn to Taos, which brought them into the village. Driving out toward the mountain with the acequia bubbling alongside the road, Judith was reminded of both Mexico and the Swiss Alps—a strange combination of each.
Later, back home in California, she happened upon an ad in ArtNews for Alvaro Cardona-Hine. She was drawn to the work and was stunned to see he was from Truchas. So on their next trip to New Mexico, they came to Truchas to meet Alvaro and Barbara. She’d brought some of her paintings with her that Barbara and Alvaro liked so well they invited her to come paint with them, which she did. They told her about a house that was on the market in the village.
And there was something about that house… although it needed a ton of work when they first saw it. There was not even a kitchen. But Judith stood in what would become the kitchen, looking out the windows across a sunlit field of golden hay stubble, at a huge flock of tiny little birds that were flying back and forth in formation, and she received something of a message telling her she should live there, in that house. So they bought it.
After her husband died she realized she had come to the end of the life she’d shared with him in Lake Arrowhead, California and she didn’t want to go back without him. Truchas was a new beginning but one she hadn’t intended to do alone. She acknowledges she never would have come by herself but, left here all alone, she chose to stay. All she could think was that since she had made the choice in such an intuitive way, maybe she was supposed to be here.
Since she struggled at memorization and had a hard time focusing, Judith was not a good elementary school student, but she could draw. She always got her strokes from drawing and worked her way through high school doing lots of art. At the time she didn’t see any possibilities in art and didn’t know how to begin. “If someone had told me,” she says, “you have to do thirty drawings of the same thistle and they’re going to get worse before they get better, and that it’s about process… that would have helped.”
By the time she came to Truchas she’d done some realistic watercolors which she found didn’t interest her very much, and was in the midst of an abstract series of works on paper, but she hadn’t really done much painting. She didn’t, yet, take herself seriously as an artist.
When she arrived, determined to explore her art, Bill Franke took her into Hand Artes Gallery here in Truchas and helped her get into a prestigious show in Santa Fe. He encouraged her to paint larger and on canvas. She has spent these last twelve years discovering her process, meeting collectors in her own gallery and selling. She’s now painting a show for a venue in Massachusetts and one in California as well.
About her art she says, “I am tempted to call these works arrangements. They are arrangements of shapes, lines, colors, textures which, if they work, invite attention and investigation and finally emotion. I want the colors to pop and sing. I want structures that have both tension and completeness. These are process paintings. I find my way in, play, create problems, and finally solve or resolve. I say I create a mess and then get out alive.”
In addition to painting, Judith is also writing her memoir. She received her Masters in English and also taught literature and has always been interested in writing. She’s written poems and stories and published an essay, as well as many professional papers, but she was genuinely surprised by how challenging writing this memoir has been. She says, “Both painting and writing can be so fulfilling and nurturing even though they drive you nuts.” She has a New York agent and editor but catches herself thinking sometimes that she’s turning 75 in the fall and she really shouldn’t have to work so hard.
But years ago, when facing a health crisis, she received another message: If you want to get well you have to paint. So she continues, not entirely because she wants to but, like so many of us, because she must.
You can see Judith’s work at judithhert.com.
Love to you all,