There are many words to describe Ho Baron’s sculptures. Eerie, elegant, bizarre and beautiful are just a few that capture the true essence of his work.
Born in Chicago in 1941, Baron moved to El Paso as a young child and considers the city home. Throughout his life he made many choices to live and see things his own way, things that would help him fulfill a desire he didn’t know he had. The desire to create.
Located on the corner of Aurora Avenue. and North Piedras Street is Ho Baron’s sculpture garden. It’s filled with “gods of future religions,” as Baron calls them. Although he eventually decided to pursue his interest in sculpture, Baron’s first passion was writing.
“I graduated with a master’s degree (in English) and saw myself as a writer,” Baron said. “I also got into photography. photography and visuals. (For me, visuals are a lot easier than writing, (because) when you write, you have to say it right.”
During his time involved with fine arts, Baron recalled his first encounter with this form of expression. He recalled living on a commune in New York City and meeting a man whose craft caught his attention. It was a pen drawing that Baron wanted to try out himself. He recalled “picking up the pen and really liking the flow of the line.”
Baron’s time in New York City helped him discover his passion for art, but he didn’t stop there. During his post-college years, he lived in many places and met many people who served as mentors, guiding him in the arts.
“Once I lived with a group of artists in Belgium. I was passing through Belgium and I met a guy, some people who lived in a commune, an artist community, and they were cartoonists,” he said. “I stayed (with them) for about three years and left them for about a year and then I came back. I was with them for (about) four or five years and they had some kind of slogan and their slogan was ‘Make Art’ and I thought ‘that’s a pretty good thing to live by’.”
After his initiation and immersion in art, Baron went through different mediums and tried several art forms. It was only during his time in Philadelphia that he experienced sculpture first-hand.
“I lived in Philadelphia. I was a librarian and took an evening class in sculpture. There was an old man and we had clay and we had to sculpt his face,” Baron said.
After taking a sculpture class in Philadelphia and grappling with a new transition from his job as a librarian, Baron decided to return to El Paso. He then studied art at UTEP while working for his family business, Dave’s Loans.
Although many may believe that sculpting was Baron’s full-time occupation, this was not the case. Outside of his job at Dave’s Loans, he focused on sculpture because it made him happy and helped him discover his passion.
“For some people, their passion is to play sports, or their passion is to get married and get a job and have kids and no real plans,” Baron said. “I mean, a lot of us just get into situations. But what if you have a passion for something? Maybe (you’ll find) a direction.”
Just looking at Baron’s pieces, you can see the passion he is talking about. Sharp edges, distorted faces and no empty space on his sculptures are evidence of the dedication with which he created them. Although some may think that Baron follows a specific style, like abstract art, he was pleased to say the opposite.
“My style of art is intuitive. I only make art and have no rules. It’s just what comes out,” he said. “I do figurative art. I make the character, but I abstract it. I’m kidding.”
Many of his works are on display in his sculpture garden, but can also be viewed in his book Gods of Future Religions. In his book, Baron explains the intention for most of his sculptures, which is mainly that he makes fun of religion.
“Well, I start off by talking about why I call my work Gods for Future Religions because I make fun of religion. I think religions are pretty silly,” Baron said. “So when the world is fed up with their existing religions, I have a lot of small characters that I’ve made and large characters and they can worship my characters. What is the difference? One figure within the other. Satire.”
An example of his main theme for his work is his sculpture, The Water God, which he created after seeing a multitude of Buddhas in Asia. “The Water God” is a “god” created as a bringer of water for a desert city. With many meanings, “The Water God” represents eternal water to the people of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. The tongues sticking out of the faces represent fear, greed and thirst, while the black balls on the tongues represent people’s attempt to achieve balance.
Like The Water God, Baron has many other projects that have backstories that share the same satirical approach to religion. His last sculpture was completed over a decade ago and since then Baron has been preparing for his retirement. Since 1979, Baron has sculpted over 300 figures and estimates that over half a million dollars have been spent on his endeavor. Some of his artwork was chosen to adorn entrances to libraries and art museums outside and around El Paso, but he still carries some of his earliest projects in his own sculpture garden.
Although his career and sculpture are over, his pieces will leave a legacy for those around him and other art lovers for years to come.
Elisha Nuñez is a reporter and can be reached at [email protected]