We had the good fortune of connecting with Rolando Barrero and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Rolando, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
I really didn’t pursue any one particular artistic or creative career, I was blessed with a wide variety of opportunities from a very early age in my life. Most of my opportunities are not unique to me, they are there for most of us. Were it not for strong mentorship, which i was blessed to have, I would taken them all and gone through each and every door in spite of being ill prepared. You see, I was taught and learned very early that because a door opens does not mean I was to rush in. It was better to wait and succeed once in than to rush in and inevitably pushed out the back door due to incompetence and ego. As a child I was working for my father at his print shop and fell in love with the process of offset lithography and typesetting and wanted to work on the big machines immediately, instead my father had me do quite of bit of collating by hand which was more appropriate for young boy. I didn’t quit, I kept on collating until I was old enough and taught how to run the presses. In my teens I got a job at another print shop, it was a tee-shirt company. It was there while creating graphics and going to New York Fashion Mart shows where I thrived on the energy and excitement of the NYC fashion world. I eventually got and opportunity to take on a small fashion line. It was while running around the marts in New York that I was scouted out as male model for Ives St. Germain were I became even more fascinated with fashion and photography and took on various part-time gigs with other designers, photographers, and of course the litany of restaurant service and bartending jobs that had to be done to make ends meet. In my early 20’s, after working for designer Ted Lapidus at the Bal Harbour Shops in Florida for about a year I relocated to the shop on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. It was there that I realized that something was missing… I lacked the education of the well to do that had suddenly become my circle of cohorts, and clients. I made a decision to go back to college and get a degree. I needed a scholarship if I was to go to any college so I started attending community college to get the necessary GPA that would get me the funding needed. While attending Miami-Dade Community College I was adopted, more or less, by some of the early cutting edge artists in film, photography, and performance art. My life mentor, Marilyn Gottlieb Roberts, not only patiently taught me how to paint and draw but, taught me my most valued lesson: how to see and interpret life. Lessons I still hold on to. Were it not for her constant re-directions; from drawing what I thought was there there in with graphic flat hard lines, but to experience what was there and interpret it with richer organic loose marks on paper and canvas I don’t believe I would have been accepted to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where I graduated. So, the answer to the question is very simple. I did not purse a career. I was fascinated by the lessons on the journey called life that became a career.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My work has been a series of commentaries much like a living journal of auto-biographical notes documenting my experiences, responses, and reactions throughout my life. My concentration on social justice art work was pretty much established by 1986 during the AIDS pandemic and was solidified due to a series of attempts to censor artists like Andres Serrano in 1987 and Robert Mapplethorpe in 1989. I have found myself questioning the purpose of art within society ever since. Four of thousands of works I have created and that I am most grateful to have been able to complete are: 1. Growing Up is Great, a very large scale painting, which I have no idea what happened to, that depicted the step by step clinical image of the mutilation of a penis which acceptable and encouraged for the American male. This was a response to the indignation of Americans towards similar practices of circumcisions on females. (1989) 2. Morbid Morbidity, painting, self-portrait. Depiction of the moment while masturbating that I realized that all the men I was fantasizing about had recently died of AIDS.( 1991 ) 3. School Supplies for the Next Generation, installation, a series of toe tags and body bags in three sizes: pre-kindergarten, grammar school, and high school arranged in a hop-scotch design. Commentary indicting everyone for ineffective response to mass shooting in American schools. 4. The “Pajaro” image that I created in 1990 which has been an icon I have used for more than thirty years. The icon itself is a loaded symbol I use as a subversive intervention to honor the lives lost due to AIDS and hate crimes towards the LGBTQ community. I purposely strayed away, or at least limited my attempts at excellence in any particular medium or craft as I have never wanted to be recognized as simply a painter, nor a filmmaker, but as someone who pushes the understanding of the power of any given medium to initiate and further the dialogue of the observations I have made a wish to comment on. This approach became more evident after 1993, only a few years after graduating in 1990, when the use of hands became limited due a craniotomy for brain cancer. The use of my hands to create precise lines and marks had vanished yet, my spirit to create grew exponentially. Since then, I have more so, concentrated on the development and the conveyance of “interpretation” in a variety formats which best serves the commentary I want to present.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I love life, I love good food, and I love spending quality time with good friends. Sunrises are to be shared. Humble walks in silence and extravagant dinners are a must to share as well. Because they are “best friends” I would make sure to concentrate on three things. First no matter what offer them something they uniquely are seeking to see, feel, or want experience even if I already done it. Second share an event that neither has done before and create a new memory of a first with him, or her. And last but not least, I’d get vulnerable and ask them to join me doing something I fear or think is silly doing alone. I would do the whole ambassador of the town thing and take them to all the best tourist spots, museums, parks, etc. then on the next day I would convince them take in the city using a random persons suggestions…when I travel I have the habit of asking a waiter or cab driver about their favorite places and things to do. It opens up world that only natives of the area would know about.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Oh my, there are so many people to recognize, as I mentioned earlier my biggest shout out is to Marilyn Gottlieb Roberts for teaching me the art of “seeing” , Charles Recher, Bruce Posner for giving me and understanding of “alternative approaches” to create and present works, Jeff Abell for the values of “integrity” and “commitment” in education and experimentation, to Sheldon Lurie for his dedication to his craft as and artist and his notable curatorial prowess, and finally to the late Sir Robert J. Loescher who made Art History a captivating never ending joy to study.
Other: The Box Gallery www.theboxgallery.info