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Michael Usyk – Part 2

Posted on May 9, 2007 by Susie Hollands

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

Read part one here.

“Holly and I went over, went in, and sat down writes Michael Usyk. It seemed the place was open to all. It was a sweet little place, with these French guys on guitars and drums doing all these Dylan and country music covers. Later, I learned they rehearse every Sunday.

Then they broke out into the Creedence Clearwater Revival song “Lodi.” But when they would come to the bridge, frankly, they didn’t remember it and kept messing it up. They were taking these things off American records. So after a couple of times, I went to the singer and said, “Hi. Listen, I came all the way from America to show you how to play this bridge.”

Even though I haven’t played guitar in almost twenty years, I still remember this. I showed it to him a couple of times, and they all kind of nodded and went, “Oh, yeah.” So they went back to playing, and about half an hour later, when they’d had their rehearsal, I went to talk to the singer to say hello.

He said, “Who are you?” I told him who I was and that I was an artist from America, and he said, “This is my gallery. Too bad you don’t have work. I’d like to look at it.”

So I said, “But I do! I’ll be back in ten minutes. Don’t close.” I ran to Holly’s house, grabbed my portfolio case, ran back to the gallery, and started to take out my pictures. I don’t want to start tooting my horn, but he was very surprised at what this strange, fast-talking New Yorker who had great knowledge of Creedence Clearwater Revival was pulling out of a portfolio. He was showing them to his wife and talking in very fast French. But I could tell by his gestures that he was saying, “This guy just walked in off the street, and look at his work.”

The upshot was, he said, “Would you like to show here in April?” To which I said, Yeah! So I left the gallery that night thinking, “My god! I’ve been here since Monday, going around since Tuesday, and it’s Sunday night, and I’ve got a show in Paris for April!” I couldn’t wait to e-mail my wife in New York and tell her the news.

I got up early Monday morning; I didn’t have to catch the Air France bus till about twelve noon, so I thought I’d take a great walk around this beautiful city for the next hour and a half. Coming back to Holly’s apartment, I had to pass the gallery. Though it was about ten in the morning, I noticed they were open. I went in to say good morning, thank you, I look forward to seeing you in April, and goodbye until the Spring.

The co-owner, Laurent’s wife, was there. She told me, in broken English, “I want to SEE the work in February.”

I thought, “I guess now I gotta come back here in a few months.” They could have just kept the work I had with me, but they didn’t want to do that. So I thought, “Well, I gotta come back in February with the work.” So I went back to the U.S., spent the next four months painting what I would bring them in February. I e-mailed them several times and told them I was coming. But they never answered me until Holly went in and asked them to answer my e-mails.

So in February, I went back and brought seventeen new paintings, painted just for the show. This time I was able to stay with Holly for the whole week. But the gallery owners weren’t around for the first three days, and they hadn’t told me they wouldn’t be around. When they got back they basically said, “We don’t remember anything about this show.” It was like I’d never been there. And Laurent said he had no recollection of offering me a show. But he said, “It’s very nice work. We’ll put you in a group show in April.”

With my friend Holly next to me translating, I said, “I didn’t come here to be in a group show. I really have special work. I’ve been walking around this town, and I don’t see anything that looks like my work. I walked in that day and you saw this, and it was by luck that we met, but you really need me in order to take your gallery to another level. You need to show more interesting work. You need me as much as I need you.” I presented everything. I put all the paintings on the walls. Every empty space I could find, I found a way to prop up a painting and shine a light on it, all the time talking about how lucky they were that I was here.

Over the next two days, with Holly helping me all the time, I went back several times negotiating for a show.

Basically, they turned; his wife, especially, started to champion me, and they said “Okay.” I couldn’t really tell what they meant–whether I had a show or not. They said, “Come back tomorrow at five p.m.”

As I was leaving with Holly, and during drinks at the Select, and later on through dinner, I kept saying, “I gotta get a show. I gotta get a show.”

Holly said, “Relax; you got it. Something clicked in there.”

I was afraid to face my wife: two trips without her to Paris–and still no show?

I had a troubled night. I went back to the gallery the next day at five, and they said, “Okay. You have a one-man show in October, our lead show of the season. I bumped my cousin.”

So I had a show planned for October–again, the day before I left Paris. They agreed to store half the paintings, and I had to stuff the other half back into my portfolio.

October came, and I had the show. This time I brought my wife. It poured that night, so only thirty to thirty-five people came. But one of the people who came was a major public intellectual, Arlette Farge, whose comments were very meaningful to me and an excellent recommendation for any residencies I might try to get in France.

They ended up selling seven paintings and offered me another show. But they still don’t answer my e-mails”.

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