when pictures fail me…
In the years just following 9/11, I was not looking for cultural escapism. My heart had been ripped out, shredded, burnt, and stuffed back into my chest cavity. I shrouded myself in meditative music by Satie, did long yoga poses, and could not bear to sit at my drawing table churning out my signature whimsical fashion illustration.
I knew nothing about Hannelore Baron. Neither the fact that she had witnessed the brutal hammer attack on her father and destruction of their home on the infamous Kristallnacht, nor the petrifying anxiety as her family tried to escape Germany in those early years when some Jews were lucky enough to be sent packing with falsified passports and their lives. Before the “Final Solution” went full throttle.
In 2003 a friend asked me if I wanted to meet him at the Neuberger Museum of Art, at SUNY Purchase College. I needed to get out of the house.
Standing in the gallery, I knew. Something dark had informed this artist at an early age. Her intimate assemblages and collages invited me into a world both familiar and foreboding. Scraps of fabric conjured up the small cotton prints and textures of Auntie Em’s aprons. Twine and wire connected dollhouse-sized panels whose abstract scenes, inhabited by childlike figures, symbols, and letters, were etched as if with barbed wire. Worn chunks of wood, easily held in one’s hand, fit into claustrophobic cases like ambiguous puzzles.
Her work still quietly astounds me. I have recently had the opportunity to hold one of those boxes, to lift the hinge and enter the interior. I did so with a tentative touch, not only because of this unexpected intimacy, but because Hannelore’s work is so very tactile. I can feel her mind in a zen hover, allowing intuition to move her hands, make her choices. As random as they may seem to a casual observer, I know that each patch of muslin, each stain or strip of pattern was positioned in a way that created a calming balance for her.
Her seemingly primitive approach to order, using materials one would find in the aftermath of some disaster, natural or un-, is an eloquent interpretation of nothing less than the human condition, filtered through her own specific experience. She addresses that which is timeless: the nature of suffering, the role of chance, as well as our contradictory natures of fragility and strength, cruelty and kindness. In the course of living her life, Hannelore Baron has proven herself to be not only an artist, but an alchemist, turning dark threads into gold.
all images courtesy of the Hannelore Baron Estate