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Monday, August 2, 2021

Sculptor Ron Baron turns everyday objects into masterpieces

When most people go to a garage sale or thrift store, they see practical items sold for bargain prices. But sculptor and UC Davis Master of Fine Arts Ron Baron looks at those castoff objects and sees a work of art.

Today, artists, aspiring artists and fans of art alike are invited to attend a free lecture given by Baron as part of the Art Studio Lecture Series. The lecture will be held in the main room of the Technocultural Studies Building from 4:30 to 6 p.m.

In his lecture, Baron aims to provide a glimpse into his creative process and discuss how he arrives from inspiration to the installation sculptures made of everyday, “found” objects he has become known for.

“I started making ceramics when I was about 16sixteen years old. I fell in love with the potter’s wheel,” Baron said. “My work changed tremendously as I entered graduate school in Davis. I started [adding] found objects that I had collected in thrift stores and garage sales into ceramic sculptures, so that it became a composite of the added, wet clay and those existing objects.”

Baron said that after he graduated from Davis, he did not have access to a kiln, or the oven used to fire ceramics. As a result, he began working exclusively with objects he found at garage sales and thrift stores to create his pieces.

“I started to make these vessels, these constructions that looked like pieces of pottery, that were actually made of stacks of different diameters of dishes. If you stack one dish on top of another, and each one is smaller or larger than the one below it, by stacking them up you create this silhouetted form,” Baron said. “It actually looks like classical pottery, like these gorgeous pots that I love to throw on the pottery wheel, but in fact they were actually made of junk store and thrift store and garage sale finds.”

Now, Baron said, his sculptures are representations of the objects that make up our culture. He compares his work to artifacts found at archaeological digs, which provide a glimpse into a society’s culture and values.

“In the same way that an archaeologist would reconstruct a piece of pottery from broken shards that he might find in the earth at an excavation site, I think of my work in that way. They’re not just objects that I buy from a store brand-new, but they’re objects that someone owned, and each one of these objects contains their own personal story,” he said.

The often personal, meaningful objects that Baron finds cast-off in secondhand sales inspire him to think critically about what experiences and memories our society truly finds valuable.

“At the moment that we own these objects, this object in that moment is so precious,” he said. “But then when someone like myself is buying it for 50 cents at a garage sale, it begins to raise questions about how valuable those experiences and those moments really are.”

Art Studio graduate student Alek Bohnak is organizing the Art Studio Lecture series. He said students and faculty recommended that Baron participate in the series.

“I think what is unique about Mr. Baron is his focus on public art projects. Much of his recent work is in public spaces in permanent installations.  This contrasts with many artists who show mostly in commercial galleries.  It is unique for myself, as an artist and student, to hear about the myriad of ways art can be shown,” Bohnak said in an e-mail interview.

Baron’s sculpture installations are displayed in New York City, airports and other public spaces. He said his installations are very different from works displayed in museums or galleries.

“The audience changes tremendously. The work that you’re creating has to be able to have a dialogue with the community that the work is going to be placed in, the kind of viewer that might not necessarily go into a gallery or museum. Many times that means creating a work that has a certain amount of accessibility to it,” he said.

Baron is currently working on his largest commission to date, a bronze sculpture for a new public library in San Jose.

Art studio Professor Lucy Puls worked with Baron when he was a student at UC Davis. She believes his success as a working artist will be inspirational for the art students who attend his lecture.

“It’s really good for students to see that this strong artist was at Davis, got his education here and has gone off and been a successful working artist,” Puls said. “[Students] will get a sense of what’s involved in that. [Baron] has done well, and it’s not easy to maintain an art career. There’s a component to it that’s just a lot of hard work, dedication, and a lot of determination.”

ROBIN MIGDOL can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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