The Absent is Present


We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.We hammer wood for a house, but it’s the inner space that makes it livable.

                      -From the ancient Chinese Tao Te Ching


In Walden,Thoreau wrote, “Sometimes in a summer morning…I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon… in undisturbed solitude and stillness…I grew in those seasons like corn in the night.” Thoreau realized that spirit and creativity can flourish in seclusion, that absence and presence are not necessarily in opposition but can complement and coexist with one another. Although something positive may grow from certain kinds of loss, one might doubt whether this is possible in the case of mourning the tragic death of a loved one. Yet, paradoxically, a void filled with lament can be fertile ground for creativity, since no matter how painful the bereavement process, the mind in mourning cannot help but dwell on the loss, and the artist must work from his experience. Not that the blooming artwork can miraculously transform a dark negative space into a positive affirmation--rather, the broken spirit heals itself in a way analogous to the technique for repairing a Kintsugi tea bowl. The cracks are not concealed but filled with gold. The repair highlights the fractures and points to the history of the damage. Without the breakage its new, restored form would never exist, yet to suggest that it is as “good as new” is absurd. Perhaps a piece of broken Kintsugi pot takes on a different beauty after repair, but when a person’s life is shattered by the death of a loved one and its aftermath, the shards can never be assembled in any manner that makes sense. Bromides like “all things happen for a reason” or “there is a light at the end of the tunnel” are repulsive and preposterous.


Legend has it that in the 1920s Ernest Hemingway made a wager at lunch with several colleagues that he could write a short story in just six words. He scribbled on a napkin, “For Sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.” This laconic story perfectly portrays the sentiment of my current body of work. Each creative act is an offering that grieves for a senseless tragedy and venerates a life lost. The artwork dwells in the pain and absence, commemorating and remembering, rather then avoiding it, covering it over to heal and forget.

-Ron Baron, 2016