Valyn Calhoun's camera is his therapist, he says. And one need only look at his photographs to see what he means.
An often jarring assortment of random limbs soaked in bright, harsh colors, his photos can feel discomforting at times, like a bondage, big-top circus. Combating the chaos, ostensibly at least, is his incorporation of a mirroring technique, which creates a symmetry in his work: a sort of kaleidoscape.
But trying to rationalize his pieces defeats the purpose. The discordance is his point.
Calhoun, a 30-year-old Fort Lauderdale native, points to sexual abuse he suffered as a child and the subsequent emotional struggle as the inspiration behind his images. A self-defined sex addict, he wants to convey the complete loss of control and loss of rationality that goes with such a condition. Calhoun is gay, but his photos show genderless bodies, demonstrating that under such an addiction an arm is a leg is a mouth is a whatever; it doesn't matter. "You can't tell who's what in the throes of a sex addiction," he says.
The past year has seen some highs and lows for Calhoun. His health spiraled out of control until he was finally diagnosed as HIV positive, for which he was promptly treated. As a result, his health improved quickly and drastically.
"My brain hasn't caught up yet," he says. "Within three months, I had gained 20 pounds back, and within six months, I'm undetectable. The meds are amazing and my body is healthier. Mainly, it's been a struggle of the mind and reconciling what just happened with me, and finding my artistic spark again because I felt dry. But when it comes to the physical part, I'm blessed, I couldn't be any luckier."
Now Calhoun is creating again, his camera right beside him, certainly helping his brain catch up one inspiration at a time.
Check out our interview with Calhoun below for his upcoming retrospective, opening Thursday, August 22 at ActivistArtistA Gallery in Boynton Beach. The reception is Saturday August 24. Details below.
New Times: What can we expect from this show?
Calhoun: Basically Rolando [Barrero] contacted me about this show. He wanted to put together a retrospective previewing and showcasing my work from the past, so basically what's going to be on display is all my photography since I started my career. I'm selecting pieces from each of my series to display on separate panels. And it's a big range: from 8x10 up to 13x19 I think is my largest print. The whole front of the gallery is going to be chronologically ordered with my series, and the back of the gallery is going to have about four or five images of me by Rita Baum, so I'll be the subject for the background, too.
Who is Rita Baum and why did you partner with her?
Rita Baum is a very good friend of mine and a great artist. She is the first person that I shot as a model professionally. [Because] she was my first model, I thought it would be really interesting for this show. She's never shown at a gallery before, and she started doing some artwork of her own after modeling, and she ended up taking some really phenomenal pictures of me. So I asked her if she wouldn't mind participating. So it's kind of like, I started with her as my model and now here we are three years later and she's putting up pictures of me at my show. It's great!
Do you feel Florida influences your work and/or creative process? Do you see Florida in your work?
I blame the Bermuda Triangle! It brings me back here every time I leave. But yes, the weirder parts of Florida particularly. When I was growing up down here I knew I was gay right from the get go. Some things happened to me in childhood, in preschool molestation-wise that definitely left an impact on my head. The guy was acquitted so I can't even say his name in press or anything because he got away with it. And that's been the main inspiration for the beginning for my artwork. Not even realizing at the time I had repressed memories and all this sexual addiction. All this sexual energy was definitely pouring out through my art and screaming and when all these repressed memories came back I found myself having to find a new muse and new medium and a new inspiration. I definitely find inspiration in the characters in Florida, the local people you see, the local flora and fauna. I can't help it but everything about here led up to the person I am today.