Words fail in describing Aspen’s Betty Weiss
Aspen Times Weekly
The standard line about communal art spaces like the Red Brick Center for the Arts is that such places foster a vital creative interaction among the resident artists.
But at 82, Betty Weiss has established her own brand of wisdom, and finds no need to stick to conventions.
“What’s nice at the Red Brick is you can be alone as much as you like. You have the freedom to be alone,” said Weiss, who has maintained a studio at the city of Aspen-owned facility since it opened as an arts center in 1994. “Some people have more of a need to share and talk about their work than others. I think it needs to speak for itself.”
Weiss speaks in a delicate voice that occasionally cracks. But even if she were loud and shrill, it seems unlikely that she would devote many words to her art. It is not, she says, her tendency to think about her work in terms of language. There is no narrative suggested by her abstract creations, and she doesn’t see the art as an expression of her thoughts so much as it is an extension of herself.
“I don’t think of myself when I’m doing it,” said Weiss, who is being honored by the Red Brick with a benefit dinner and tribute, Wednesday, March 5, at the Aspen Institute’s Doerr-Hosier Center. “I’m just thinking of something I needed to say. But it’s not writing a letter or a song or a poem. I use color or motion to express myself. I turn to a canvas to find my ‘words.'”
It’s hard to imagine Weiss coming across any clearer than she does in her art. Her work ” most often collages of paint and paper ” has become part of the very landscape of Aspen, where she has had a house since 1991, and where she has been a full-time resident since 1992. Part of that is due to the amount of art she has contributed to the town; her work has been a fixture at the Red Brick, the Aspen Chapel, the Aspen Art Museum, and in numerous local auctions.
More than the ubiquity of the work is the distinctiveness of the style. Weiss’ work is instantly recognizable as her own, in the way she studies texture, dimensions and the interaction of shape. The shapes ” almost always sharp edges, rarely curving lines ” seem to be the defining element, but Weiss says what she thinks about most often, and usually begins with, is color: “Just thinking of color one day, and saying, ‘OK, let’s see what happens,'” she said. What is interesting about this is that her color palette is nearly as broad as imaginable.
Weiss’ reticence about her work does not translate to a withdrawal from community involvement. She is a member of the boards of Anderson Ranch, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet and the Aspen Valley Medical Foundation, and she recently left the Aspen Art Museum’s board.
She has been a fellow at the Aspen Institute for years, and served on the Aspen Music Festival board a decade ago. In a span of a few minutes at her Red Brick studio, several visitors drop in on Weiss, inquiring about her art, her trip around the world last month, the leg she injured recently.
Weiss is similarly engaged with the world concerning her art. She consistently takes classes in a variety of disciplines at Anderson Ranch; she enrolled to study paper and paint with artists Roberto Juarez and Holly Roberts this summer.
“When you’re exposed to a classroom, the give and take, you see examples of how people think and work, and you can’t help but learn,” she said. “You get pushed in another direction.”
But Weiss believes that, no matter how much she is pushed, she won’t be brushed away from her signature form of expression. Her words are few, but her identity is strong.
“We can’t help what we are,” she said. “No matter how we try, it still comes out as ourselves.”
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Amid the pre-Thanksgiving gloom of grim pandemic news here in Aspen, across Colorado and the mountain west came a small but significant dose of hope in the unlikely form of an Aspen Music Festival and School announcement.