When you sit around waiting to die for 10 years and then don’t, you tend to get busy making up for lost time. This is what happened to artist and organizer Rolando Chang Barrero, who was told in 1993 he had a terminal brain tumor and there was nothing doctors could do.
Before this he had been an active artist in the South Beach scene, where his hyper productive creative life yielded paintings and sculptures. I was the arts writer back then for the Sun-Sentinel and wrote about Roly. I still have one of his whimsical pieces – a cow made out of a smashed Budweiser beer can with metal wire legs and little cork feet.
But his busy artist life was blindsided when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor “the size of a squash” he tells me over a lunch of burritos at La Lupita in Lake Worth, just down the street from his gallery Rolando Chang Barrero Fine Art on Lucerne Avenue.
“It changed everything,” he says with a resigned sigh. “Once I saw the pictures of the tumor and began having seizures I lost my aggressiveness and got very depressed. The drugs they gave me made me bloat up and I felt terrible. This went on for ten years until I had a surgery to remove the tumor. They didn’t get all of it but they said you are not terminal anymore. A friend of mine snapped me out of it and said you are just feeling sorry for yourself and need to start being creative again. So I stopped all the drugs, detoxed, left Miami Beach, and started painting again.”
He traveled for a while but came back to Palm Beach County 6 years ago, settling into a 1947 home in Lake Worth. Then he got busy, opening his own studio; starting a new arts district in Boynton Beach in an industrial warehouse area; opening at gallery in downtown Lake Worth; creating community based art events like the monthly Art Walk; and now planning a new space called The Box on Belvedere in downtown West Palm Beach.
A professed insomniac, Roly’s new life finds him working triple overtime to keep all these projects going.
“My typical day starts at 4:30 a.m. I get up and get on the computer to do my marketing and website updating until about 6 a.m. Then I work with cancer and rehab support groups from 6 to 8. From 8 a.m. til about 10:30 a.m. I’m at my studio painting for various upcoming shows. Then I am at my Lake Worth Gallery from 11 til 6 p.m. At 6 I go home, rest, eat, shower and get ready for my AA meetings at 8 p.m. By 10 p.m. I’m back home and go to bed.”
Whew. With a schedule like that it’s no wonder he gets so much done.
Paintings by Rolando Chang Barrero
His ActivistArtistA Gallery is located in Boynton Beach in the industrial arts district that is included in the Art Walks and on the Taste History Tours of Boynton Beach. He creates and displays his paintings there year round, welcoming visitors and hosting events like the recent annual KeroWacked Festival inspired by the spirit of The Beats. The colorful warehouse bay doors and vibrant artist scene has become a real highlight of the area and garnered press right away from the Broward New Times and other arts publications.
“It’s an off the path industrial area,” says Chang. ”We came in here because we didn’t want to be priced out like artists have been in Northwood since there are so many restaurants and stores and now condos coming in that raise the rents so much there. I think we will be here a long time.”
Rolando Chang Barrero has been recognized as one the nine most intriguing persons in the regional arts, one of the top green trailblazers, and has received a Congressional Letter of Commendation for his contributions in the advancement for the arts. He is the President of the Florida Arts Association, the co-founder of Art Synergy and the Director of The Boynton Beach Art District where he has been honored to be Awarded Best Art Exhibition by New Times 2014 and Awarded Best Art Walk by New Times 2013.He is constantly reaching out and bringing in new artists of all types – visual, filmmakers, writers, poets – to join in on the fun.
Roly’s own art focuses on faces with bright strokes of color and wide open, if sometimes uneven, eyes. Symbols of paper folded hats and boats and birds and burning hearts with crowns flit about in the cosmos around the heads. He is a thinker, his insomniac mind always running with thoughts of the next show, next space, next universe to conquer, so it makes sense that this is what he paints. It’s all about the community. He reaches in, but he reaches out.
Learn about the Life and Art of Rolando Chang Barrero Whose Fine Art in Lake Worth and ActivistArtistA Gallery in Boynton Beach are Impacting our Community.