Michael Usyk – Part 1

Posted on May 6, 2007 by Susie Hollands

I met artist Michael Usyk on my last trip to NYC and after hearing about his adventures persuaded him to write about them for other readers who aspire to touch down in Paris and see what they can make happen…….

Here writes Michael Usyk…

In the Spring of 2005, I decided that nothing was really going on for me here in New York City. I had to shake things up. I realized I would have to see about getting shows in other places.

I decided to go to Paris. I hadn’t been there for many years, and I thought, “If things don’t work out, well, at least I’ll see Paris again.” I didn’t have a lot of money and didn’t know where I was going to stay. I didn’t really know anybody in Paris anymore, and I could only manage a couple of words of French, most of them useless for the task at hand.

A couple of weeks before I bought the ticket, I mentioned that I was going to go to Paris to my friend Bozena, who informed me that she was also going to Paris for a textile show, and I should change my dates. She told me she usually has a very large hotel room that would be easy to share. I could stay with her. Luckily, I have a very understanding wife, because Bozena looks like she could be Miss Poland.

A month before I left, through Professor Arnold Baskin, a true man of the world, I met my new friend Holly Warner and her dog, Asti, at Bruno’s, a cafe on LaGuardia Place. Arnie was someone I’d known and liked for ages. Holly was wonderful. She has been living in France for thirty-five years and is now a French citizen. She was originally from Scarsdale, New York. We hit it off right away, and she offered to help me in Paris: introductions, directions–even the occasional translation.

So in mid-September, 2005, I hopped on a plane with thirteen small paintings packed in my portfolio case and declared it as my second suitcase.

I traveled to Paris, got a little lost on the RER, but by noon, I made it to my hotel on the corner of Boulevard Raspail and Rue Edgar Quinet. Coming out of the metro on one of the most glorious September days of my life, I saw the lovely Paris sky. Then I got to the top stair, and, stepping onto the sidewalk and seeing the beautiful low buildings, I recalled a photo of this corner in “Kiki of Montparnasse,” a book that I’ve loved all my life.

I had been e-mailing some people from the States in advance of my coming, setting up appointments and meetings. Still, when I arrived on the ground, all that preparation went out the window. I couldn’t even make a phone call or hook up with some of these people for at least three days. I had a cell phone, but I didn’t know about SIM cards. No one had told me. And none of the pay phones seemed to work.

Meanwhile, half the week was already over. I’d had three nice yet fraught days in Paris, trying to contact people and having dinner with Bozena. Finally, I phoned my wife in New York on the hotel phone (don’t even ask how much) and asked her please to e-mail people in Paris with my hotel room phone number; they could e-mail or phone me at the hotel. It worked! People started calling me right away.

I saw Esther de Beauce, who had a salon. We met at a cafe, and talked, and she was very pleasant to me. But she had decided she was going with young French artists who did multiples.

I was walking around Paris, mostly around Rue du Seine and Rue Visconti. I probably should have been walking around the Marais, but who knew the art market was changing and moving? I didn’t get to see that many gallery people, though most were much nicer than in New York. Until the night before I left, I had no takers. Most gallery people had actually looked at my work and had been very kind. One guy said, “It’s very nice work, but it’s not for my gallery,” and I could see he had mostly pop and figurative work; mine is abstract. But he said, “Come sit down and have a cup of coffee, and let me look at more of your paintings.” I really appreciated his kindness to me.

Most of the gallery people were far more respectful than people in the same position in New York. All of them spoke English, which was good, because my French was terrible.

I had gallery owner Patricia Dorfmann’s (photo below) phone number from my friend French filmmaker Jackie Raynal, who had seen my work and said she would be happy to mention me to Dorfmann. I went there on Friday with an American painter friend of a friend living in Paris. She would help with translation. But Patricia Dorfmann gave me the French blow-off I had been led to expect but hadn’t really experienced yet.

I had been very nervous, and then I started laughing right in her gallery in front of her, because her nasty blow-off was just the way it had been described to me by people in the U.S. before I came. My laughing probably just made her angrier, but I really didn’t care at that point, because I’d been having a very good time, in spite of the fact that I’d come here to get a gallery show, time was running out, and I didn’t have one.

I had originally believed that Bozena had the room for five days, Monday to Friday, but as it turned out, it was really only Monday to Thursday. So I called my new buddy Holly Warner, who knows a lot about Paris, and asked her if she knew a cheap-to-moderate place I could stay for three days until Monday morning. To which she said, “Come over and stay at my place. I have a second bedroom.” It was the first of many times she would come to my rescue.

The week was almost up. I had gone to Paris hunting for a show. I had spent money I didn’t really have, including the four-hundred dollars my wife had slipped into my pocket the morning I left.

I was a hunter and I was coming back empty-handed. I was still hoping, but we were going into the weekend already, and unless I fell over a gallery, nothing was going to happen this trip. I was feeling bummed out and very sad about that.

On Sunday, the day before I had to leave, Holly took me to the August Blanqui market. At about four o’clock on a beautiful sunny afternoon, as I walked by a corner on the Boulevard Arago, I could hear American country music coming from a building that looked like it might be a gallery. It had a small plaza outside, and a few people were dancing to the music there.

To be continued…..

Read Part 2 here.

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Michael Usyk is a New York-based artist. Check out his website.