by Myrna Zanetell
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El Paso artist’s world travels inspired unique sculptures
El Paso native Ho Baron is an accomplished writer, painter, photographer and sculptor. Despite producing a substantial body of outstanding work in each of these fields, he remains one of the least heralded members of El Paso’s arts community. Perhaps this is due to the fact that he marches to the beat of his own drum, creating work coined with the distinctive “Ho” signature.
Baron earned his BA from UTEP (then Texas Western College) in 1963, a Masters in English in Arizona, and later a Masters in Library Science in Austin. His next endeavor was to sign up with the Peace Corps, which took him to Africa. During his time in Nigeria and Ethiopia, Baron grew intrigued with early African art, describing it as intuitive in nature. This fascination would influence much of his later work.
Ho also spent time in New York, Philadelphia, the Virgin Islands and Belgium. It was in Antwerp, where he worked as a photographer for a cartoonists’ collective, that his future began to take shape. He began to experiment seeking to develop his own style, such as creating double exposed negatives.
“My images were not created merely by exposing the film twice,” he explained. “Rather I became thrilled by the challenge of putting images atop each other, a technique which gave my story a sense of mystery and several levels of interpretation.”
Baron also drew hundreds of odd-shaped figures in pen and ink. Before long he began drawing the same imagery directly on his photo prints. He then moved from ink to acrylics, a technique that added color, depth and life to his scenarios.
In 1970 Baron returned to the United States and began exploring the medium of sculpture. He took classes first at the Philadelphia College of Art and later at UTEP. Enraptured by the possibilities offered by modeling in clay, he began to translate his drawing style into the creation of three-dimensional figures: “What a challenge (it was) to transpose my intuitive and spontaneous drawing style into complex clay forms, then into molds for use in casting bronzes, cast stone and resin works.”
Although the subjects of his sculptures can be described as figurative, they bear little resemblance to traditional human form.
“I make art primarily to make art, art for art’s sake as they say. It’s my passion and my fun. I combine my life’s experiences, my intuitive approach, and that universal spirit of human creativity to produce visual imagery of uncommon and unique themes. I believe my expression has its roots in the ancients, produced with a creative force akin to the master artisans of the Mayan and the Hindu traditions. I want my forms to look like they’re the leavings of historic cultures, and they’re from the ocean or uncovered from ancient ruins.” Poking a bit of fun at traditional religion, the artist calls his collection of sculptures, “Gods for Future Religions.”
Although one can try to put words on paper to describe Baron’s imagery, it can only be truly appreciated when viewed in person. Many of his larger outdoor pieces can be seen at his home at the corner of Aurora and Piedras in Central El Paso. His indoor studio also contains a plethora of smaller sculptures and samples of his photography. It also houses a fascinating collection of small doll-like assemblages combined with unusually shaped dried desert roots.
Whether inside or out, Baron’s sculptures reside in an imaginary world of their own. In his words, “My kingdom is an archetypal community that contains its own belief system and its key figures.”
These figures are intricate motifs, created by combining miniature caricatures that he places on larger, often webbed, figurative forms. “I use the human form, and all the noses, eyes, breasts and butts, because it reflects my philosophy about the multiple-self, who we are.”
His figures often display protruding tongues as if to mock the viewer – tongues holding balls, an act exhibiting what the artist calls his “philosophy of balance.” His whimsical style lies somewhere amidst satire, fantasy and dark art.
“I live on a busy street with possibly 1,000 cars passing by on a daily basis. For this reason I thought it would be interesting to create a monumental sculpture in my yard to entertain passersby. Because my home is situated in a Historic District I had to ask permission from the historic commission to construct this sculpture. I told them my intent was to create a ‘Buddha-like’ figure so the commission gave me their approval. They were a bit disconcerted when the final figure did not look like the traditional Buddha.”
To construct his Buddha, Baron and his friend Luis Villegas spread thousands of pounds of cement over a rebar frame that was then covered with stucco.
“I call my final sculpture ‘The Water God.’ Like all my works the image is strange and challenging. It has three faces in one – male and female, androgynous, hermaphrodite. This he/she is all of us. We’re all in it together.”
The Water God’s tongues stick out representing the greed, anguish, the need, the thirst. One arm is embedded into one leg, implying immobility, but even with three legs and three feet, the Water God is going nowhere. The animals at the base have come seeking water, but they’re frozen there waiting for the water to return. There was water in the fountain once, and when it worked water dripped from one hand to the next and then slipped away. Neighbors later complained when the water turned into black mold at the crotch so the water is no longer there.
His larger subjects are often dancers, acrobats and contortionists. His largest work, a half-ton bronze entitled the “Free Thinker” (or “Thoughts from the Deep”) is on permanent exhibition at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. “A Novel Romance,”of similar size, depicts a dancing couple whose base is comprised of hundreds of faces admiring the dancers. This one adorns the entrance of El Paso Public Library facing Cleveland Street.
Over the years Ho has traveled the world and worked in teaching, public relations, social work, restaurants and as a laborer. He worked in his family business, El Paso’s Dave’s Loans, for ten years. That income afforded him the opportunity to cast his bronze sculptures. He also worked part-time as an EPCC college librarian. Many will remember his satirical newspaper, “The El Paso Lampoon” and his 1990s new music radio program on NPR. Ho also served on the City of El Paso Public Art Committee for 2007-08, and he produced a couple of videos about his work that are still available on YouTube.
As an admirer of Baron’s work, Michael Tomor, former Director of the El Paso Museum of Art, praised his sculptures saying, “Ho Baron’s work offers us clear, emphatic statements from the heart. Individual in direction, fixed in vision, Baron brings to the world of art a new surreal reality, fresh in its subject, refined in its statement and sophisticated in its message. It is at once stylistically lyrical and poetic while bold and daring in its use of materials and perspective.”
Ho, who will turn 78 in December, admits that he is beginning to slow down a bit. That’s why his most recent quest has been to find permanent homes for pieces in his collection. Las Cruces is putting a piece next to their Museum of Art, and Silver City has taken 14 pieces; several will be near the city’s Information Center, and the rest will be placed in the local college library. Roswell has taken three works; the largest one will go in the city’s sculpture garden, and the rest around town. The Museum of Art in Albuquerque has accepted two, one of which is already installed in their sculpture garden, and Carrizozo, N.M., will line its art district with Ho’s cast-stone works.
The Ho Baron Sculpture Garden and Studio, 2830 Aurora, is open to the public from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturdays, or by appointment. For more information, call (915) 562-7820. His work also will be featured in the 20/20 Visionary Show that opens Nov. 14 at the Hal Marcus Gallery.
Soldier’s art at International
During November, the International Museum of Art, 1211 Montana, will host an exhibition showcasing more than 60 works of art created by active duty soldiers, veterans and military youth from Fort Bliss. The opening reception begins at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9 (Veterans Day weekend). The artwork was created in concert with the Resiliency through Art, Skies Youth Program. Local support is provided by the Soldiers Art Workshop, which was started by local artist Krystyna Robbins and her husband, John.
A large selection of artwork on ceramic tile, created by some of El Paso’s best-known artists, will be for sale, to raise funds for the purchase of paints and other art supplies for the Soldiers Art Workshop program.
Nina Titovets, daughter of prominent local painters Lyuba and Sasha Titovets, is definitely coming into her own as a highly talented artist working in the medium of photography. You can see her work in an upcoming exhibition entitled “No Man’s Land” on display Nov. 15-25 at the former Charlotte’s Furniture Store in Pepper Tree Square, 5411 N. Mesa. Receptions will be held 6 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 15-16, and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 17.
The photographs reveal the beauty of the desert and of forgotten towns in Texas and New Mexico, Nina explained in regards to the show’s evocative title.
Myrna Zanetell is a freelance writer
specializing in the visual arts
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