Chatting With Gastown’s Alex Usow, Polymath And Geniephobe

Alex Usow is a one man art collective based in Gastown. Aside from being a gallery owner, restaurateur and retailer, he’s a self-taught artist who believes in ghosts and – in the proper lighting conditions – looks exactly like Denzel Washington. He’ll be showing at The Cheaper Show on Saturday night.

A one sentence artists statement to describe your work: Picture Godzilla trying to open one of those classic combination locks – “Turn the dial right, stop at 35, then left making sure to first pass 35 and stopping at FRIG I HAVE GIANT HANDS!”

Three things about Gastown that make you want to live there: I own three businesses in Gastown. Sharks & Hammers apparel store, Sea Monstr Sushi and Catalog Gallery / Creative agency. At this point I’ve basically forced myself to live here by investing in this neighborhood that I love.

Best Vancouver place to be inspired by emerging artistic talent? For me, there is no one place for inspiration. The art gallery with a terrible abbreviated name (the VAG) is always great for inspiration by established talent, but for emerging talent it’s best just to talk to other artists and check out local shows like the ones at my gallery and at the art schools here.

What inspires your creativity? I’m inspired by mistakes and small moments where our brain stops discursively thinking.

Vancouver can be a challenging city for an artist (collectors are rare, studio space is hard to come by and the cost of living is high). Why would an artist choose to be here? Artists are notorious for making bad decisions. I love Vancouver thought because of the infinite potential it allows you to have. We’re a top tier, first world city where inspired people have all avenues for success available to them. Unless we choose to complain instead of create and sleep instead of fight.

Last art show that really blew you away: I recently illegally downloaded a pirated version of Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child and it was rad.

Local artist you admire:
I’m currently enjoying the work by Andrea Wan, Nomi Chi, Dan Climan, Andy Dixon and the terrible all city throw-ups by MR.8.

One thing you would like to change about the art scene in Vancouver: I think paint brush stems are too long. I always cut them down to size. Seriously, sometimes the stem’s over a foot long and I have no clue why. If we made our own short stem paint brushes for Vancouver we could establish a name for ourselves as a city of artists who vehemently don’t need long brush stems and are pro-actively proud of it. Other than that I wouldn’t change a thing. Except I would change the terrible abbreviated name of the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Favourite way to get your hands dirty? Making dumplings.

How do you see Gastown changing over the next five years? Ideally, it will turn into a robot from outer space that can also transform into a truck. More likely it continue to walk the line between self-aware gentrification and a night time outdoor toilet for bridge and tunnelers. I’m good with all that but if we get a dog clothing store then I’m buying a pet alligator.

Are there any facets of your artistic identity that influence the way you approach business, or are the two sides mutually exclusive? Creativity in any of it’s forms is generally beneficial in problem solving, which is one way to define business. However, being emotional, aloof and loser drunk seems to work better in art than in business.

If the Mayor of Vancouver was a genie and could grant you three civic wishes, what would they be?  You don’t have to rub him…

1. Free citywide wifi
2. Dual Diagnosis Research Grants
3. Deport all genies

Words of wisdom for emerging artists living in Vancouver? Stay away from the brown acid and don’t give homeless people money – give them socks and Cheeseburgers.


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