Ho Baron’s work and life are a testimony to the importance of travelling, both in the mental and physical sense. His adventures and explorations--pushing him far from the boundaries of other’s expectations-- are reflected in his art. The sculptures featured in this written interview are marvelous ventures into an unknown future. Will we need new religions and new gods? I suspect that yes, we will and Baron’s work shows us one vision of how this might look. (If you want to explore further but can’t visit his sculpture garden, I suggest buying his book, Gods for Future Religions.)
~Sylvia Van Nooten
Ho in his own words:
I was born in Chicago, El Paso bred, and was raised in the desert on the Mexican border. After studying English in graduate school in Tucson, I taught in the Peace Corps in Nigeria and Ethiopia. It followed years of moving around. From Africa, I lived in New York, Philadelphia, Austin, the Virgin Islands, Belgium and elsewhere, then I returned to El Paso in 1980 to work for ten years in the family pawn shop. I earned a second master's degree in library science along the way, and after a stint in retail, I worked part time several years as an El Paso’s community college librarian.
I traveled most continents, taught, did public relations, social work, construction, restaurants and labor. I grew in my personal expression from writing into the visual arts including photography, pen and ink drawing, painting to eventually create about 200 narrative bronze and cast stone figures. In addition, I published a satirical newspaper, "The El Paso Lampoon," had photo exhibits, and I produced a weekly "new music" radio program on the local NPR station.
My life-long art endeavors mostly fall in five areas: writings, the drawings, photography, the years of modeling and casting sculptures, then in creating doll assemblages in my ‘old years.’ Interestingly, the message in my artistic imagery translated similarly in my works and style, from my drawings to my super imposed photography, the sculpture and the assemblages.
I found fulfillment in the visual arts, and sculpture was particularly gratifying. I took a few art courses, but I’m self-taught, my expression is primarily intuitive and my modeling technique is rough. Sculpture has been my greatest passion, abstracting the human form with my motifs of surreal imagery and faces within faces.
With little formal training in the visual arts, my expression is free from rules and expectations. I label my imagery as surreal, because my figures are unreal and fantasy like. Maybe influenced by my travels, some say they are Asian in appearance, some say perhaps Mayan. My sculptures are water-like creatures, perhaps deities of an ancient culture pulled from a remote lagoon. Perhaps they’re ‘gods for future religions.’
My unrefined modeling style might pair me with outsider or folk artists. Casting in bronze, however, is not an outsider’s medium. ‘Original’ might be a better label, but that’s not academic sounding. Call me ‘visionary.’ The American Visionary Art Museum, where I have two works, makes a distinction between folk and visionary art. Visionary art, the museum wrote, is created by self-taught artists whose work is personal rather than folk art, which is developed from an existing cultural tradition.
As for art as a communication tool, different medium relates to different people differently or maybe not at all … lots of variables. I’ve made art mostly for myself, art for art’s sake, so my audience must inevitably be select, mostly other artists, a few fans and tourists looking for entertainment in El Paso. I’ve always known my unusual works would draw a limited audience.
It’s tough reaching an audience as an artist. My creative writings died in my files although I’ve found the visual arts easier to show. I’m old with massive work I’ve created. The future of my work is uncertain but so is the future with all.
In terms of the artist community, many artists by their very nature are kindred spirits. Even though they can be critical of each other, we share a similar passion. I’ve met hundreds of other artists in weekend art fairs and at gallery openings and of course FB has assisted in drawing together those with similar interests.
My gallery in my basement is closed, the Covid, but I welcome people to my garden. When asked why I make art, I say it’s my motto: “Make art.” Making art is fun, always gratifying and it’s my religion. Making a living in art is tough, however, but it’s worth pursuing a lifetime, I say to visitors. Art can be in many forms: the visual arts, the performing, graphic, decorative, cooking, gardening and so on.
“First Person” 1980 is on the book cover of my “Gods for Future Religions.” This was my first sculpture modeled for a night course at the Philadelphia College of Art, my only work modeled from a drawing of mine. All following modeled works were improvised.
Surreal Sculpture Garden is my ‘open to the public’ garden behind my home. Read some commentary from visitors.
“Dysfunctional Family Tree” 2012 is a giant assemblage completed after the book was published. Visible as in the sculpture garden image, the tree was a beloved, a live nonbearing mulberry tree, wherein I added features when it died. The hands are plaster, the faces cast stone while the legs are actual mannequin legs.
“The Water God” The date made was not documented, and the vines and decoration on the work is ever changing. There’s a video on it on You Tube and a further explanation of the work in my “Gods…,” monograph pp. 4-5.
“A Novel Romance” 2005 pp 38-41 Notes are on pp.40-41 and a photo on back cover. The sculpture is installed in public in front of the El Paso Public Library.
“One” 1994 Female on one side and male on the reverse side. On is p.12 there is related commentary. on the page.
“Horses and Riders” 1994 is on p. 29, probably the most outrageous depiction of the subject anywhere, both image and explanation.
“Post Nuclear Dog” 2007 pp. 50-51. The work is among my most popular and a copy is in the American Visionary Art Museum collection.