When I arrived in Hudson, New York I was greeted by artist, Carly Burnell, sitting in a snow-covered sedan. The snow continued to pile up as we drove to the small-town of Chatham with the heat blasting.

After the six-hour flight from San Francisco to New York City, the three-hour train ride upstate, and a 20 minute car ride interrupted by some car-pushing when the sedan got stuck in the snow, I had arrived at The Macedonia Institute for a month-long residency.

Heather Day at Macedonia Institute Residency

Setting aside time for the residency was a big deal for me. It seemed like a rare gift to focus on a new body of work, free from any distractions. That meant completely silencing components of my practice I’ve grown accustomed to like meetings, emails, and phone calls. I started planning for the residency six months in advance, blocking out my schedule and finishing up paintings so I could have a singular focus in Chatham.  

My first morning in Chatham, I woke up to a foot of snow blanketing the ground. Snow has a way of quieting everything, even slowing down time. That’s not something I’m used to, but it’s something I embraced. It helped me draw my attention to the smaller details like a reed poking through icy white embers, or a stream of melted ice twisting down the barn’s gutter to form a widening pool below. The snow’s blank canvas provided the platform for soft-spoken moments to ring a little louder as they shift and change with the landscape.

I knew that the residency would provide me the space to reconsider the foundational aspects of my painting practice.  

The Macedonia Institute Artist Residency
The Macedonia Institute Artist Residency

Before coming out to New York, I was planning to make smaller works on paper, allowing me to work in the beautiful victorian house on The Macedonia Institute’s property as well as ship my artwork back to San Francisco.  

Those plans changed after I talked with Joshua Liner Gallery about doing a two-person show, Pour, with artist Kathryn Macnaughton. The timing was serendipitous. The plan changed to produce large paintings that would be highlighted in Joshua Liner’s pristine ground floor gallery space in Chelsea. The gallery graciously delivered my blank canvases from Queens to The Macedonia Institute. The only downside of working with canvases was the fact that it meant I’d be painting in a barn in below freezing temperatures.

Mornings often began with several cups of tea, and layering clothes that would be both comfortable and functional to paint in cold weather.

Heather Day's studio at The Macedonia Institute Artist Residency

The studio was nestled in a sprawling red barn right in front of a traditional white victorian house. The house was built in 1989 but it felt older, giving off a glow of nostalgia with its creaking floors and floral wallpaper.

I prepared the canvases and readied the studio to become a productive work space. Carly had also decided to do her work in the barn. We had become fast friends since pushing the sedan out of the snow, but working in the barn together sparked a camaraderie. We balanced each other, respecting moments to paint alone, or finding several hours of quiet studio time. In-between, we’d critique each other’s work to push ourselves forward.

I appreciated the moments the new workspace offered up to me. The shift in perspective helped propel my work. Carly and I would take breaks away from the cold, providing me distance from the paintings so that I could understand their bigger picture. Stepping away often to pause and reflect allowed me to see more in the painting as it came together.

Back in San Francisco, I’d paint for hours and forget to take breaks. In Chatham, I relished the snowy walks from the house to the barn every 20 minutes, feeling the snow crunch beneath my feet with every step.

The new conceptual foundations I developed at The Macedonia Institute are still bubbling to the surface in my work. My synesthesia has dictated colors I use in my work, but its now working alongside the sensory moments found in universal experiences.

The Macedonia Institute Artist Residency : Heather Day's studio

I’m thinking more about the shared experiences we can call upon within ourselves, and the ones we create for ourselves. You can close your eyes to see a static color and you can distort that color - blocking beams of light with your hand, or even touching an eye to smear a color as if it were a malleable apparition on polaroid film.

I believe that color is ingrained in us, whether we can fully see it or not - it’s always there. I collect moments of both synesthetic color and color that’s really there to bring it back to my studio and dissect. It’s often emotional. It’s often personal. But, that’s usually where the meaningful stuff lies.

The Macedonia Institute Artist Residency : Heather Day Painting

A majority of my time at The Macedonia Institute was spent as a recluse, painting in the barn. Still, I made an effort to explore the town. One of the weekends there, Aidan and Devora from Macedonia took us on a tour of town to The School by Jack Shainman Gallery, Tierra Farm for their incredible spiced nuts, and Berry Farm for hot spiked cider and free tastings of wood fired pizza.

During the week, we’d venture into Chatham for yoga, or to hear live music and eat at Blue Plate. We’d play pool at The People’s Pub, where I met one of Jack Shear’s assistants. Jack was Ellsworth Kelly’s life partner and after meeting his assistants we were granted the opportunity to visit the studio for a tour. I’ll share more on this visit in my next essay.

The Macedonia Institute Artist Residency
The Macedonia Institute Artist Residency

If I could, I would have stayed in Chatham for another month. As my residency came to a close, I thought about which work I would leave behind at The Macedonia Institute. To honor the completion of their residency, artists are asked to leave one painting behind as opposed to paying rent during their stay. I chose to leave three works on paper behind that I titled The Chatham Series - an ode to the town itself as well as Ellsworth Kelly’s eponymous work.

One month after my residency, and after reconnecting with my studio in San Francisco, I was back east, celebrating the opening of my two-person show, Pour, alongside the work of Kathryn Macnaughton at the Joshua Liner Gallery in New York City.

The show featured much of the work I created in Chatham. It was surreal to have some separation, some space between the residency and the show, and then see the canvases surrounded by white walls, giving each piece space to breathe like the blankets of snow in Chatham.

The opening night was packed. Aidan and Devora from The Macedonia Institute, as well as Carly,  joined us to celebrate. The reunion was far from the frigid barn, the warmth of the sedan’s heat blasting, the spiked cider at Berry Farm, and the white victorian where we took tea breaks, but it still impacted me greatly, helping close the chapter at this new place in my work.

The Macedonia Artist Residency

Special thanks to Aidan and Devora from Macedonia Institute for hosting me, Carly Burnell for keeping an open mind and becoming a fast friend, and Joshua Liner Gallery for helping coordinate the canvas construction and delivery upstate. It was no small task!