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PHILLIP VALYS email@example.com
2:25 p.m. EST, December 15, 2011
Rolando Chang Barrero is one of those Miami-bred artist/activists who used to brandish a paintbrush as often as he would a picket sign. When Miami Beach's Lincoln Road throbbed with young sculptors and painters in the late '80s, Barrero ran the Ground Level Gallery and wore around his neck a sandwich board scrawled with obscene messages to advocate education in the wake of the AIDSepidemic.
Today, the seasoned painter uses a gallery better suited for a car mechanic: a chalky, paint-chipped, garage bay warehouse one block west of I-95. During a recent Tuesday, the roar of lunch-hour traffic rushing by in the distance, Barrero hunches over a life-sized canvas painting spread out over a makeshift plywood table. "This is what I made," said the 49-year-old figurative abstract artist, of Delray Beach, pointing to an oil-on-canvas featuring a naked man and a cluster of dead birds. "I called these birds 'pajaro,' which is a slang word that means 'homosexual.' I worked mostly with experimental media and provocative subjects like this."
Outside, dust laps the deserted streets and batters against the rows of warehouse walls like a Wild West town in a John Wayne film. This is the Boynton Beach Neighborhood Arts District, a place its artist tenants call a contemporary art scene, a place where bulldozers and dingy window-tinting shops fill the narrow avenues between warehouse buildings instead of gallery storefronts and wall murals.
Barrero himself occupies a 600-square-foot warehouse nook, half of which is shared by female tattoo artist Lea Vendetta. Inside is a stifling cube of a workspace filled with right angles and natural lighting, and adorned with vibrant paintings of multicolored abstract birds posing in profile. On this day, his gallery is deprived of air conditioning because the previous tenant didn't tell Barrero he'd be skipping the final month's electric bill.