Thursday, September 5, 2013

Coastal Star: Greg Stepanich (Art Papers) Reveiws Valyn Calhoun Exhibit

Eclectic works of photographer Valyn Calhoun, such as this mirror image, are on display at ActivistArtista on Industrial Avenue in Boynton Beach. Photo provided
By Greg Stepanich
    The Boynton Beach Arts District can be found in a block of repurposed warehouses on Industrial Avenue, a stone’s throw west of Interstate 95 off Boynton Beach Boulevard.
But if Rolando Chang Barrero and his fellow artists have their way, soon you’ll see their work in Boynton’s tiny downtown on Ocean Avenue.
“We want to create some sustainability for the city. Because the city needs something,” Barrero said, pointing to Ocean Avenue’s relative isolation south of Boynton Beach Boulevard. “They built up the marina, but they forgot that it’s real difficult to train people to cross a major road.”
This month, Barrero’s ActivistArtista initiative at 422 W. Industrial Ave. is hosting an exhibit of work by the young Fort Lauderdale-based photographer Valyn Calhoun, whose disparate styles and influences are viewable in a small but fascinating collection of images that range from straight-on rock club coverage to shape-shifting patterns created from parts of his body refracted in mirror image.
There also is a series of photos that look like an outré spread for Vanity Fair, with a very beautiful dark-haired woman posing amid a heavily tagged urban landscape, dressed — or semi-undressed — in a castoff military-style uniform, or topless from behind in a pair of tight-fitting striped pants. As generically provocative as the poses may be, Calhoun knows how to compose an effective image.
Contrasted with that is a set of intimate nature pictures, tight close-ups of birds, dragonflies and plants, simple but pretty, and reflecting an entirely different sensibility;  as does a series of figures in silhouette, holding parasols or wearing wings, against multicolored backdrops that give the pictures a highly artificial but nonetheless attractive look. 
“I’ve been showing Valyn’s pieces, one by one, over the past two years … I like the way he thinks,” Barrero said. “I like the way he looks at things, and I like the way he looks at himself … It’s edgy, it’s classical, and he has the ability to transcend the medium. He knows how to manipulate his medium, and he uses it as vocabulary.”
This show, available for viewing until Sept. 27 by appointment with a call to Barrero, also evokes Calhoun’s being diagnosed with AIDS and hepatitis B earlier this year. A set of self-portraits shows his face and hands covered with blood as he screams, while in another, photographer Rita Baum has shot Calhoun, naked except for a white mink stole, looking at the camera with the telltale blood still on his hands.
Barrero said Calhoun’s friends stepped up to help after his diagnosis, and today the artist has stabilized on an expensive drug regimen. But he said he doesn’t want Calhoun’s work to be seen solely through the prism of his condition.
“So many people were talking about it that his art and his photography almost took a back seat. Valyn became the product,” Barrero said, which is why he wanted to host the exhibition, bringing Calhoun “back into the art scene and minimizing the whole AIDS thing.”
This exhibit presents the work of a man working through his influences and different styles; it’s promising rather than entirely fulfilling. It strikes the viewer as the efforts of an artist who could go in many different directions, and it will be interesting to see what he could do if he finds a specific métier he wants to pursue.
Meanwhile, Barrero’s artists are filling more spaces in the warehouses. One newcomer is abstract expressionist Diannett Doyle, whose husband, Sonny Doyle, an interior renovator, proudly shows off his wife’s big, colorful canvases. “That’s my favorite,” he said, pointing to the only small work on the walls, in which a thin strand of orange bunches up in the middle of a bright yellow background.
“I want a place where the young, emerging artists get a step up,” Barrero said of the arts district. “I want it to stay community-based, and I want to introduce good artists from outside. But I always want the focus to be that the good artists bring out the emerging artists.”
For an appointment to see the Valyn Calhoun retrospective, call Barrero at (786) 521-1199; for information about the district, visit

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