By Albert H. Fulcher | Editor
In tribute for World AIDS Day, Impulse San Diego and The Legacy Walk held a pop-up art installation featuring local artists. At a reception on Dec. 1, artists and the community gathered at The Legacy Project to celebrate and remember those lost to AIDS and HIV complications. The focus of the event was to start a conversation about the stigma that is still prevalent, celebrate those that have survived and bring awareness of the global effect of HIV/AIDS epidemic.
This exhibit featured three artists; Rory Chrz, Jesus Gomez and Steve Cambaliza.
Right after high school, Rory Chrz moved to San Diego, living here for 25 years. For 27 years now, he’s been HIV+.
Chrz painted in high school and was a theater major in college. A couple of years ago, he was hit by a distracted driver while riding his motorcycle and spent around three months in intensive care and rehabilitation to see if he would ever walk again. That is when he asked someone to bring him some paints, and he has been painting ever since.
Chrz said that a friend challenged him to paint his story of living with HIV. With three paintings, Chrz captured the pivotal moments in his life in reflection of living with the virus.
“These three [art pieces] are my story,” Chrz said. “This first piece, ‘Fall from Grace’ really, from my personal aspect, is when I was diagnosed as being HIV+. That feeling of having everything pulled out from under you. You were falling down to your knees, you were coming to death. I was told I had three years to live. Basically, this was that falling knowing there was nothing that could be done.”
All three paintings are of himself as an angel. “Fall from Grace” is a spectacular piece, capturing a moment that is like being thrown out of heaven — with dark black wings, whirling down from the sky.
The second piece, “Dawn of the Soul,” represents that point when Chrz actually realized that he was going to survive.
“I’m actually going to live through this, now what do I do? It took me a couple of years to get there,” Chrz said. “That recognition of everything that I had known before had fallen away and I had to reimagine myself. And through grace, a lot of support and a lot of soul searching, you see that the wings go from dark black to grey. A rebirth and deciding where you wanted to go from that point.”
The final piece, “Ascension,” comes past the point of “Dawn of the Soul,” where Chrz fully realized with “the grace of the divine” that he had survived through 30 years — and that there are many like him that are still here and still striving and rising above.
“I would have never imagined that I would have had the chance to paint these,” Chrz said. “This one, comes from an actual photo of me 30 years ago when I did a photo shoot for a photographer in San Diego. When I originally painted it, I didn’t have the AIDS ribbon on it and kept thinking something is really missing. So I painted it on. I was raised Christian, so I thought of St. Michael, so when I painted the AIDS ribbon around it, I didn’t sketch it out, I just started painting.”
A Catholic friend of his asked him to turn the painting upside down. She asked him if he realized what he had done with the AIDS ribbon and she pointed out that he had painted a dragon.
“What I didn’t know was that the archangel Michael, slayed the dragon, or Satan,” Chrz said. “I didn’t realize that I had painted that in and didn’t fully believe it until I went to a friend’s service for her funeral and I looked up at the Catholic stained-glass window and there was the archangel Michael fighting the dragon. I came to mind then that I had been given a gift and it’s my purpose to fill that gift and put it out there.” (View his work at paintingsbychrz.com)
In addition to Chrz’s work, abstract art was featured by artist Jesus Gomez. His “Duality” series shows two sides on one canvas, like an imperfect mirror image. All stemming from the same colors, textures and composition, there was a distinct difference between each side as they melded together in the middle. His prose that went along with each painting talked about the anguish that comes from the inside — which eventually is seen from the outside. The contrasting sides exposed the conflict from within.
Picking people that he knew or saw, the third artist Steve Cabaliza displayed two paintings, “Count Edwin” and “Nicholas, The guy next door.” His portraits captured a moment in time of his subjects, simply but powerfully.
Donations from the pop-up exhibition went to the LGBT Legacy Walk project.
—Albert Fulcher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.