About Joe Hedges

Joe Hedges (b. 1980) is an intermedia artist who has developed an expansive practice that weaves together oil painting and new media elements within installations that often incorporate video, code and sound. Hedges is the recipient of several grants and has exhibited nationally and internationally. Recent exhibitions include solo shows at Bolivar Gallery at the University of Kentucky, Chase Gallery in Spokane, WA and Artworks in Loveland, CO. Hedges grew up drawing and playing music in the small town of Trenton, Ohio. As a songwriter, he placed two songs in the Billboard charts, one with his former rock band formerly of MCA Records and one performed by a reality television star. He has placed music in commercials, movies and podcasts such as Freakonomics from WYNC, and has played countless shows in the United States and Europe opening for acts such as MUSE and The Counting Crows. Hedges’ songs range from folk acoustic to atmospheric electronica, often balancing these elements ala Peter Gabriel.

Hedges’ recommitment to the visual arts began with attending Northern Kentucky University to study oil painting. He then attended graduate school at the University of Cincinnati where he focused on electronic media and internet art. In Cincinnati, Ohio, Hedges briefly ran Boom Gallery, a project space that featured exhibitions and curatorial experiments by regional and national artists including friend and frequent collaborator Corrina Mehiel (1982-2017).

Hedges is currently living in Pullman, Washington where he pulls from his diverse experiences in the arts to create original combinatorial works. His exhibitions frequently include conventional renderings of landscapes and figures in oil paint on canvas alongside intermedia projects that include flatscreen monitors, tablets and smartphones and consumer objects and materials. In addition to maintaining his studio practice and participating in frequent exhibitions, Hedges coordinates the painting area at Washington State University and organizes community public art projects with Pullman Arts Foundation, an arts nonprofit he founded with his partner.

A Very True Story

Joe Hedges riding a bicycle between two Florida Keys

Joe Hedges riding a bicycle watching big fish jump | photo by Jiemei Lin

Joe Hedges is the accidental but fortuitous product of a hippie speech-pathologist and a small town attorney and lifelong class clown. The love of these unlikely companions was so big that only the heart of an artist or a priest could grow inside. The untimely death of the attorney combined with years of Catholic education drove Hedges toward an obsessive commitment to rock music and drawing human skulls. This peculiarly introspective angst resulted in Hedges’ childhood BFF’s becoming bandmates and an in an eventual recording contract with a company in sunny Santa Monica, CA.

As quickly as Hedges had developed a proficiency in writing melodic rock music, melodic rock music itself went out of fashion while the entire music industry collapsed. Finding himself without a record label and reduced to a reluctant participant in a shadowy network of long-haired vultures and adulterers laundering money on mixing consoles in the East Village, Hedges retreated to a winery nestled in the rolling hills of central Kentucky. The vineyards provided surprisingly palatable wine and the perfect backdrop for several years of writing atmospheric songs about downheartedness, poverty and isolation.

After a bleak, cold winter stuck in a cabin deep in the snowy woods of northern Michigan with a man whose very name was NSFW, Hedges discovered eastern religions, found new energy in the creation of physical works of art and returned to college to study oil painting while living in an illegal warehouse with one of his three sisters and several anonymous arial acrobats. Under the helpful mentorship of socially liberal but fiscally conservative professors Hedges honed his drawing and painting abilities and was accepted to a master of fine arts program in the Queen City of Cincinnati, OH.  Empowered by an expensive piece of parchment reading Master of Fine Arts Plural, Hedges began teaching all the known dimensions of the universe: 2D, 3D and 4D while working on a unified theory of color. The unseen realms beyond hue, saturation and value quickly proved empirically elusive. But for this effort and other intellectual and actual stunts, in early 2015 Hedges was rewarded a coveted preliminary interview with representatives from a major academic research institution.

In a prefatory test of wherewithal for geographically dispersed and financially limited applicants, the job interview was held on the most expensive corner of the United States: fifty fifth street in the core of the Big Apple. Instructions were to “arrive five minutes early. text this number”. In the lobby of a vaguely European boutique hotel the return text came: “proceed to the sixth floor,” and the message immediately self-destructed into a poof of anxious dust. A tiny elevator scuttled the aspiring professor up to the woody chamber where a quartet of suspicious individuals—among them an “Indian“, a real Indian, and a connoisseur of funky calf-length stockings—began the interrogation.

Pop-up exhibitions and secret art society rituals flew past in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati like opening credits in fast forward. Recognizing that only one woman had ever truly understood his bizarre dreams, could navigate his tangled inner world, and supported his most passionate creative fantasies, Hedges proposed to the woman of his reality. Jiemei “Mei” (pronounced “may”) Lin was born and raised in Hangzhou, China, an ancient epicenter of culture and contemporary locus of technological innovation (the inhabitants of which possess no knowledge of or interest in popular pastimes of Southwestern Ohio such as “cow-tipping” and “mail box baseball”). Extending four middle fingers to millennia of prejudices that had forbidden interracial marriage and continue to convolute familial relations between citizens of different nations, Hedges and Lin were wed in his mother’s backyard after planning for only six days and sending a mass e-mail to close friends and family that included the letters B,Y,O, and B in that exact order. The sky the color of a Tom Petty song, the smell of fried chicken and the neighborhood excitement of the weekend-long Annual Trenton Garage Sale Extravaganza hung in the cool early summer air. The ceremony was planned by an expert team of three sisters, officiated by the Mayor of Trenton (it’s a part time job), enhanced by a reading of a passage from The Fellowship of the Ring, and attended by former professors, family members and close friends including frequent collaborator, artist and social justice warrior who is dearly missed, Corrina Mehiel (1982-2017). 

Hedges was indeed eventually appointed Assistant Professor of Painting/Intermedia at Washington State University, which as of this writing is the only position in the world explicitly described thusly. Thanks to his forward-thinking proleptic colleagues, Hedges began enthusiastically exploring the possibilities embedded in the ink of that humble forward slash (between Painting/Intermedia)—punctuation used often to divide but which in this case enabled a measure of wholeness. Hedges’ partner Mei caught her own rainbow laser narwhal, independently securing a design position within another college at Hedges’ three-fourths-of-the-year-employer Washington State University, which is not in D.C., not in St. Louis and is definitely not in Seattle you midwest bastard. Go Cougs!

The Pullman campus of WSU is a brick spaceship that carried almost exactly 30,000 diverse humanoids to a rural starry area that few other sentient beings have considered, let alone traveled to: the dunes of the Inland Northwest, the Palouse. Just a plastiglomerate’s throw from the unfortunately-named Channeled Scablands of Washington state, the Palouse is neither a vacation destination nor a hardened sore in the earth’s knee. Rather, warm dry summers find low clouds adrift over an endless undulating agrarian wheat monoculture, a magnificently alien reminder of technological creativity and ecological destruction in the name of Wheat Thins, Wonder Bread, and white settler colonizers like Hedges’ great-grandfather who incidentally once lived just across the border in Idaho.

For three and a half years Hedges spent his days teaching mostly young adults to smear colored pigment onto flat surfaces using sticks with hairs attached to them, and spent his evenings relaxing and enjoying countless meals that should not be described as Asian Fusion even if they might include both a Caesar salad and 红烧肉. Hedges learned to speak and comprehend Mandarin Chinese, sort of. Lin learned to garden, sort of, and became an accomplished muralist and illustrator. As a family of two, they slept when they wanted, ate and watched what they wanted, and traveled a great deal to destinations as disparate as Beijing and Sacramento. Then, almost spontaneously Hedges and Lin produced a healthy tiny baby human on purpose.

When Linus Lin Hedges emerged from his watery world he did not cry. Instead, he cocked his head and looked as his father with large eyes like those one might find on a tie-dyed alien tee-shirt worn by a pot-smoking undergraduate sociology student. Linus’s alien eyes seemed to say, “Who are you and what are you doing here? And what is all this other crap in this room?” and this is the essential stance the boy has maintained for his short but exhilarating three years of life. During this time Hedges entered middle age, endured a pandemic, was awarded tenure and founded a nonprofit. He already remembers very little of it all except calmly staring out the window at the garbage truck on Tuesday mornings while holding that small child. Now drifting, part black hole part dwarf star, devouring yet aloof.

To be continued…