By Michael Aushenker
Almost exactly two years ago, in August 2011, the world of Valentina Castellani seemingly imploded. Castellani saw her entire world upended when husband Francesco Quinn, son of legendary late actor Anthony Quinn and an avid biker in peak physical condition, died suddenly after riding his bicycle around Las Flores Canyon in the Malibu heat. Francesco, who had recently graced the cover of a local magazine, had just been greeted warmly at a Malibu Pier party thrown by the publication’s parent company. He was 48.
The former Valentina Castellani-Quinn recently conversed with The Argonaut, illuminated by a convergence of natural light and gallery fixtures while sitting on a bright red divan in the center of her multi-purpose studio on Ocean Park Boulevard.
On Sept. 14 at 7 p.m., she will host, Visions of Mexico, the second art exhibit at this Santa Monica studio – a solo show by Los Angeles-based Mexican artist Chaz Guest. She is also shopping around a reality show created for Italian television, and last month, on Aug. 18, she held a screening of “The Butterfly’s Dream” in Malibu, expressly for the Hollywood Foreign Press. Yes, Castellani is on a crusade to get Yılmaz Erdoğan’s feature film drama­ nominated as Turkey’s official entry for the Academy Awards. The film is a tale of two poets, starring Mert Fırat, set in 1940 in a town near the Black Sea, which has already enjoyed a theatrical release in Turkey, Germany and Kuwait, and screened at the Istanbul Film Festival.
Best known as the titular “Zorba the Greek,” Anthony Quinn had married an Italian woman while living in Rome, where he worked on a slew of movies, most memorably Federico Fellini’s 1954 classic, “La Strata.” Castellani, who hails from a prominent family in Firenze (Florence), had actually known Francesco Quinn since her youth, only to fall in love with him after a chance meeting in 2008 as actors dubbing Italian dialogue for director Ron Howard’s “Da Vinci Code” sequel, “Angels and Demons.”
When they married, they settled in Malibu (where Castellani still lives today) with their children from previous relationships: Francesco’s twins, Max and Michela, and Valentina’s daughter, Sophia (all now in their early teens).
Despite the hardship of carrying on without Francesco, Castellani, in small steps, was able to get her life back on course. She abandoned the apparel and accessories design work that used to be her focus and, with fellow Malibuite and apparel industry associate, Max Musina, she partnered up in 2012 to form Quinn Studios, which officially launched with a party earlier this year in March and exhibit opening for Israeli painter Tamar Kronenfeld.
“There’s a lot of soul in this work,” said Musina, CEO of Quinn Studios, reflecting on the large, quasi-representational canvases by Guest circling the room.
A multi-purpose studio and production house, the Quinn Studios home base is part gallery, part screening room; a universal space where art exhibits are born and projects Castellani and Musina undertake, such as the documentary series “Life on a Bike” they produced last year are screened.
“We saw the space and we just fell in love,” Castellani said of her Santa Monica studio, which she refers to as her creative kitchen.
Castellani and Musina are also currently in the pre-production stages of trying to get a film crew entry into Syria, where they want to film “Faith,” a documentary on the widows and children of Syrian men dying on both sides of the equation during the current revolt against the al-Assad regime, which, according to the United Nations, has claimed 100,000 lives and produced nearly 2 million refugees fleeing into neighboring countries.
Castellani purposely wants to involve herself with creatives “always from different countries, different points of view,” as she sees art, not politics, as the best bet to unite people of all cultures. Part of that mission, Musina explained, is why Guest will partner up with Latino youth from L.A.’s juvenile correctional facilities next month to work on some self-portraits.
Castellani believes the type of projects she pursues is in the spirit of what Francesco would have championed. “Life on a Bike” was a valentine from Valentina to Francesco, celebrating his favorite pastime, and she has faith that “Faith” will get made, whether or not the United States gets involved in a Syrian conflict.
Meanwhile, Castellani never forgets the slogan her late husband borrowed from his mentor, Lance Armstrong – a motto she lives by: “Pain is temporary. Quitting is forever.”
The opening for the Chaz Guest exhibit will take place at Quinn Studios, 3015 Ocean Park Blvd., Santa Monica. Information, QuinnStudios.TV.