By Mary L. Holden
Art has a history. Prehistoric painters who left their mark on the world lived over 40,000 years ago. Humanity’s first camera was the human eye, but many years passed before someone took inspiration from its function to create a portable, mechanical ‘eye’ to capture images that could be shared.
Today’s artists create from this history—established by sight—that has unfolded over a vast amount of time. One current professional artist who represents this progression is Zack Jones. Self-taught, he draws, paints and uses a camera to create art. And, he houses his third-dimensional creations (pictures and videos of which may be seen on a computer screen) in a church built 140 years ago in his hometown of Malvern, Iowa. Jones bought the church and has renovated into a residence and a studio. His first show opened there in November 2012.
What does it mean when a building meant for religion becomes an art studio? Perhaps society is changing to allow individual spiritual empowerment through personal creativity rather than through the structured practice of organized religion. If that’s the case, Jones is a great representative. “I was raised on a farm. No one in my family was an artist, and I am self taught. My first teacher was Bob Ross—I used to watch him on TV at my grandmother’s house. He’s the one who taught that you should paint with joy. When I was in high school I had an airbrush and I used it for things, but it had to be taken apart and cleaned every time I wanted to change the color!”
Jones stepped into his artistic talent in 1999 at the age of 25 when he lived in Arizona. “I left a 9 to 5 job at Image Craft in Phoenix. I was doing darkroom work and felt uninspired. I was constantly looking for a hobby.” He went to an art store knowing nothing about paint, bought some oils and acrylics and played with them. His first painting was a self-portrait.
At that time, Jones lived in Cave Creek, and one day he stopped into Galeria Bellas Artes, the studio of artist Sergio Ladron de Guevara. Karen Guevara was there, and she introduced Jones to the artist who recognized the talent Jones had in his portfolio. A few weeks later, the two men were in a tuition-free, teacher-student match. “Sergio taught me to paint things that were meaningful to me, and to paint with love. I helped him by doing a few chores, but he took me under his wing. Both he and Karen turned into surrogate parents.” When Jones visits Arizona, he stays at Spur Cross (north of Cave Creek; part of the Tonto National Forest) which he calls “the wild West.” He takes inspiration from the differences in landscape between Arizona and Iowa. “To go from cornfields to cacti is inspiring,” he said.
In addition to taking photographs, renovating the church, drawing and painting, Jones has a goal to “reinvent small town Iowa. I moved away from here when I was 21 and when I moved back, the town was not like how I remembered it. There used to be lots of locally-owned businesses but they left and the buildings were abandoned and condemned. I felt like the town I knew was dying, probably due to the Internet and the lure of driving 40 miles to a city to buy things at the big box stores. I wanted to do something about it—to bring some life back to the town, get people to patronize small business, have some fun.”
As for his ‘art business’ Jones runs events like classes, competitions, concerts and art shows. “I wonder why there is not a Made in America movement going on right now? It would bring jobs back and be a good fit for life in small towns where true craftsmanship of goods, art and food could happen—instead of mass production. I want the standard to be quality over quantity.” As an artist and a businessman, Jones is actively creating the changes he wants to see in his world—a world he sees in a small town, with lifestyle values like integrity and quietude where philosophical concepts like truth, good and beauty are more easily recognized.
He’s also producing quality art and furthering its storied history.