Life of the party

Jan. 6—details

—Jared Weiss: The Party's Over

—11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays, through Feb. 12

—Ellsworth Gallery, 215 E. Palace Ave.


Before the pandemic, Santa Fe artist Jared Weiss would throw raucous parties as part of his artistic process. After his guests had ingested plenty of food and libations, he'd pull out his camera to take photos that might later provide inspiration for paintings.

But because of COVID-19 restrictions, Weiss wasn't able to have visitors at his studio for a year. That forced him to rely on images of people and events from the past, and he quickly realized a key ingredient in his creative process was missing. The 36-year-old, who has taught painting and drawing at Santa Fe Community College since 2017, even considered abandoning his craft.

Like so many people who've endured years of the pandemic, Weiss' circumstances have improved greatly. He can be found most days sitting among 13 of his large creations at Ellsworth Gallery, which has represented his work since 2019. The necessary end of Weiss' parties inspired the title of the exhibition, The Party's Over, which runs through Feb. 12. The artist imagines that the figures in The Party's Over have attended one of his gatherings, then wandered into the desert after a spirited celebration.

Weiss' paintings focus on figures whose actions and intentions are not clear. In Golden, two apparently female figures touch hands, but the nature of their interaction is ambiguous. They face each other but don't appear to be making eye contact, dancing, or congratulating each other. Duplicated limbs and digits appear almost as visual echoes, suggesting movement.

None of Weiss' subjects looks directly at the viewer, which is by design, he says.

"I think of the figures in the work as actors on a stage," Weiss says. "The figures in my paintings are very engaged in whatever action they are performing. They have urgency. It's like a small snippet of a theatrical production: figures are often looking at something that we as the viewer can't see because it is out of frame or obscured in some way. When the figure is turned away, the viewer has more space to create their own story about what is happening.

"For me, the more open-ended an image is, the more potential the viewer has to be an active participant in what the painting 'means.'"

Weiss grew up in Millersburg, Ohio, only 80 miles but a world away culturally from Cleveland. The town of 3,000 and its pastoral surroundings were not a visual arts hotbed.

"Fortunately, I had a really inspiring art teacher when I was in high school," he says. "She was very helpful in kind of generating the idea in me that I could pursue this as a life path."

As a child, Weiss says, he'd assumed that paintings were created by people in the distant past. His teacher disabused him of that notion and encouraged him to study art in college, and he earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the Columbus College of Art & Design in Ohio's metropolitan capital. It was followed by a Master of Fine Arts degree at San Francisco Art Institute. Later, he lived briefly in Chicago. All those settings suited him better.

"I always have wished that I had grown up in some kind of city," he says. "I never resonated with the place where I grew up."

The desert is a different story. All of the pieces in The Party's Over include New Mexico's distinctive angular hills or sporadic sagebrush. Weiss says the landscape that surrounds him manifests itself in his work, which was evident when he lived in Illinois.

"This was the winter of 'Snowmageddon' — the third-worst snowstorm in Chicago history — and I remember it being very cloudy and dark," he says, recalling the winter of 2011. "At one point I looked around the studio and realized that everything I was painting was black and white, very heavy with no color. I was painting and processing that environment and time of year in a very direct way. Obviously in New Mexico, the sun still shines in winter, so that helps to keep things more vibrant in the studio."

That distinctive light inspires Weiss, as it has countless artists before him.

"[Santa Fe is] kind of the antithesis of where I'm from, in a lot of ways," he says. "Where I'm from is a very conservative place, especially in the past couple of years. But it's really about just the light, the amount of light, the intensity of the light, the quality of the light. It's just so clear here. I grew up in this really cloudy place, and the sky always feels very heavy and low."

Ellsworth Gallery is trying a model in which artists staff their own exhibitions and are there to answer questions, Weiss says. As a result, he often sees people reacting to his work, not realizing the artist is in the room. The role, which requires long hours spent in the company of a laptop computer and little else, is a mixed blessing. "It's been positive for me because I can more directly explain my ideas to visitors."

Still, it's not all fun and games. "It can be a little disheartening when people come in through the door and then just kind of glance and walk out. It's been a little tough, because I'm just not very good at sitting and not doing much."

Gallery owner Barry Ellsworth praises the distinctive way Weiss incorporates the Land of Enchantment's landscapes, calling him a deep thinker who carefully considers his words and actions. He was attracted to Weiss' work because "besides the obvious skill and dedication that he puts into it, I love work that, like, captures a moment. I feel like the moments that he captures are so special. They're these sort of dream moments."

He also described Weiss as graceful in both his personality and movements.

"I'm not always privy to what he's thinking," Ellsworth says, "but I know he's thinking."