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Deborah Jones remedies her Art Base absence in new exhibition
Arts center founder returns home for her first solo show
Art Base
Acclaimed artist Deborah Jones hangs works from her show “Absence,” which opened June 12. - photo by Jordan Curet

The Art Base, like its fellow arts organizations up and down the valley, serves a role in Basalt that goes beyond merely being a space where people can create art or display the fruits of their work on the gallery walls. It’s a community gathering place that may well be an important part of the future of downtown Basalt, and it’s an environment that shows what can happen when kids and adults are empowered to create through classes like the ones on the Art Base’s recently announced summer schedule.  

Such praise may sound a little syrupy, but if there’s ever been an occasion when that sort of nurturing sentiment was true, this is it. Here’s what’s happening at the Art Base: Tonight, June 13 from 5-7 p.m., there’s going to be an opening reception for an exhibit called “Absence” by a visual artist named Deborah Jones. It will be Jones’ first solo exhibition and will run through July 5.

Here’s why that’s significant: Jones will be given this opportunity to take a major step as an artist by an organization that she begat and nurtured into what it is now. As the original director of the Wyly Community Arts Center, which morphed into the Art Base, Jones is as responsible as anyone for the fact that there’s an arts center in downtown Basalt and likely will continue to be as the town develops.

“She founded, along with Charles Wyly, the arts center as part of the Aspen Community School in Woody Creek, where she was the art teacher,” said Genna Moe, executive director of the Art Base. “When she retired from teaching, she moved the Wyly Arts Center to Basalt and formed it into a nonprofit. She wanted to keep doing art with the community but wanted to reach adults and a broader audience. She is a muse to many people whom she’s responsible for getting involved in art and getting comfortable making art.”

Jones helped move the center to a space in Gold Court, behind where Free Range restaurant and the clothing store Traffic are now. She originated a journaling-with-images exercise that is still a feature of many of the center’s outreach programs, and then Jones was instrumental in helping the nonprofit grow into the Art Base.

“It was in her strategic vision to get the arts center to change its name, which we did in 2015,” said Moe.

Wyly continues to be honored, of course, with the Charles J. Wyly Gallery, the main exhibition space at the Art Base’s home in what was once Basalt’s library, and it’s there that Jones will be displaying works in public for the first time on her own. For her, it’s a case of good karma paying off and, seeing as she retired from the Art Base board a few years ago, a bit of a homecoming.

“I always knew it would be the right thing to do to have my first solo show at the Art Base, and they were so kind to collaborate with me,” said Jones. “It really is like coming home.”

The show explores various meanings of the word “absence” through three separate but connected installations that Jones has dubbed “Flow,” “Ice” and “Mountain.” Flow consists of 35 mixed-media tile pieces with a quote from Albert Camus flowing through them: “A man's work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.”

Ice is made up of nine 10”x10” mixed-media pieces that depict the melting and collapse of the ice shelf on the western part of the Antarctic Peninsula, which is one of the areas most impacted by climate change in the world. “The patterns were so captivating for me,” said Jones, “but it was also about capturing that moment of breakup of something that is going away fast.”

The last installation, Mountain, features 80 color photographs of Mount Sopris taken by Jones from her home during all seasons of the year over the last decade. “I put them together so that they’re hung from first snow to snow to melting snow and then to the absence of snow,” she said.

The exhibition will also include, fittingly enough, some of Jones’ journals from the last few years that evoke the exercises she helped institute as part of the Art Base’s curricula. Jones will be giving an artist’s talk about the journals and her other works on June 20 at 5:30 p.m.


Class Acts

Speaking of curricula, the Art Base recently released its summer class schedule of adult workshops (starting June 19 with “Painting the Western Tanager in Watercolor”) and youth camps (starting June 24 with “The Art Force Awakens”). For more information or to register, visit the center’s website at theartbase.org.

On an unrelated note, the center, which is still in the process of raising funds to help build a permanent home across Two Rivers Road on the Pan & Fork development parcel, will give everyone a chance to make like Jones and truly show their support later this summer when it hosts its annual pARTy at The Art Base on August 17. 

“We really encourage people to join as members and get involved,” said Moe. “We’re working really hard at building operating reserves so we can hopefully launch a campaign, and we really appreciate the support of community members.”

Tickets to the event go on sale to the general public on July 15.