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Francis Powell - renaissance man


Francis Powell responds to one of the adverts Whitey is fervently posting on Craigslist, trying to start a buzz for free with a non-existent advertising budget. We only have my computer so when I go off to meetings Whitey comes over to my apartment and starts it up and posts like a maniac on any and every english language site relating to Paris. We have to take turns manning the space because we haven't managed to rig up an internet connection there yet.

Francis is a renaissance man. He's lived in Paris for years and he paints, writes poetry, short stories, composes music and he's a genuinely nice guy. He tells us he'd like to try DJ-ing at one of the weekly events and we're given CD's of his ethnic music.

He arrives back later with arm loads of his work and we start hanging it immediately. He arranges for a meeting with his friend Florian who is a VJ and eventually gets involved with video projections for the Salon events. It turns out Florian films the African market at Barbés and we'll have colourful shots of that to project in the basement dive bar section.

Found objects

We found a 12-foot long school bench in the East of Paris and carried it the three kilometers at 2 in the morning through the streets to the gallery. At least people would have a place to sit. Most of everything else that found its way into the gallery came out of the Paris streets: red leather chairs, an old minitel (became our I V Y symbol and we sat it in the gallery window on top of a chipped Doric colum we found in the basement), a working electric radiator, piles of books (which we’d put out in front of the space in a box marked “FREE,” which puzzled the public no-end).

Therewere also about 75 abstract paintings which we sold for 5 and 10 euros each. We called this “Donation Art” - more on that later. Matt Anzak arrives from Texas, straight from the plane to the gallery. He was supposed to be here on vacation but we roped him into the show and he got busy making 15 oil paintings , spurred on into an artistic frenzy by the depressing Bush election victory.

The beginning of the master-plan

Back again the next day, Sunday. Spentmost of the day clearing out the lower level, in sub zero temperatures.

It seemend to be mainly Whitey and I now as the others were pre-occupied with other things. We were now officially and ambitiously obsessed with how we were going to open the best open arts space and revolutionise the stagnant contemporary art scene in Paris.

Let's democratise Paris and let anyone who wants to show some work. We can work out a business plan to make this space pay we said in our youthful enthusiasm.

What the city needed (and foreign artists in particular), was a democratic arts space where the general ethos was on support and the maintenance of sympathetic context in which to try out new ideas - a kind of experimental sandpit.

Apart from all that my own wish was to initiate a Salon for visiting and Paris based artists which would be an event where people could come together and swap ideas, inspirations and possibly get laid once in a while.

Craiglist brings out the best

It was quite a new experience being responsible to have to open up an "emporium" at a certain time each day. I was starting a new love affair too so it didn't sit too happily with the late nights. This was only day one and what came to be a pattern began as I arrived about 2 hours late.

We wanted to see what the place looked like in the cold light of day.

Or did we?

A dirty crappy hole, putty patches, door didn’t fully shut, probably mice, possibly rats, dingy, two broken mouldy refridgerators, busted wicker chairs, a basement closet filled with decaying abstract art. In other words, we saw great possibilities.

Newly arrived from Boston, painter Anthony Antonellis arrived to give us some moral support. He'd met Whitey when we started advertising the show on Craigslist which had just started a Paris version. There only seemed to be about 12 people using it at this time so we all eventually started meeting up in person - either through art shows, jobs or selling a bike or toaster. Most were artists or some sort of vagabonds trying to make their way in Paris.

I asked my friend Jean Tientcheu to come along and help us on the opening night, or vernissage as it's known in these parts, as a "door regulator". He's Champion heavyweight boxer of Cameroon so it would seem unlikely that anyone would try and mess with him.


Queue trumpet fanfare.....

Time had passed fast and I'd been gainfully employed with Bonapart end-of-year rush and in-between times snatching time to get my printing done for the first show opening on 9th December.

After much to-ing and fro-ing we managed to arrange a "check-in" when we'd sign the contract and receive the keys for the gallery. The place had to be checked for any damage and the monosyllabic M. Metzler showed us around. He carefully showed us how to roll up and down the metal shutters covering the shop at night. He explained that the lock didn't work but it was great as a deterrent.

Now Bastille certainly isn't the flesh-pot/underbelly of the night it once was but it seems to have more bars per m² than the rest of Paris, a young and lively street traffic and we were right next to the rue du Lappe. It was good to have those blinds.


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