Karem Artist, French Quarter
am Michael Karem. I'm talking in the Austin Convention
Center on September 20th, 2005. I've been living
in New Orleans going on four years now. I used
to live in Denver, Colorado. So I moved to New
Orleans about four years ago because of my art.
I paint in oil, watercolors, mostly..I work in
any media, so it depends on what I'm trying to
do. It depends on the subject, the subject dictate
what kind of medium I'm going to use. Some subject,
you know, is like watercolors, I can use India
ink, so it depends on the subject.
In New Orleans, I've been doing mostly jazz pieces,
people playing jazz. Some of my paintings are
very realistic, some are abstract. You have to
go into it, be part of it, to see what's in it.
If you have patience enough, look at it, go, you're
going to see something in it. For some you don't
really have to, you can just look at it, and say,
'this is this kind of [instrument] player.'
There is a place called Jackson Square which there's
no place like it in the whole of the United States,
except in Europe. Actually there is a place where
like, as an artist, you don't have to be in a
gallery. You can get a license from the City,
and you can sell all the places you want to. It's
first come, first served, in this square, called
Jackson Square. The city of New Orleans is a tourist
city, so most artists, that's how they make their
living. I've been doing this for four years. I
don't have to work for anybody. I pay my food
and I pay my bed.
I'm planning to go back to New Orleans. The reason
I'm going back is like I spent twelve hours in
New Orleans in my apartment, and I didn't lose
anything. I live in the French Quarter, and the
French Quarter is fine. There was no flood in
the French Quarter, and most of my stuff in my
apartment, most of my paintings are okay. I'm
going to New Orleans because I've been all over
and there's no place like New Orleans for an artist.
If you're a good artist, you can make a living.
You don't have to be in a gallery in New Orleans,
and that's why I'm going back. Right now, there
won't be any market for artists, but I'm willing
to work for some time until it gets back on their
feet, which I know is going to be within a year,
or even six months, until they start coming back.
I'm just going back because of my art, because
that is the only place that I think I can make
a living without working for anybody, as an artist.
In New Orleans, the culture is very vibrant. I'm
talking in terms of an artist, as an artist, you
know. It's a very inspirational city from an artist's
position. The people, you know, it's like you
pull different kind of people from all over this
country, people from New York, Chicago, Caribbean,
African, you put them in one place, and you get
the kind of feelings you get in New Orleans. I
think, I guess I can describe it in one word.
I like the culture. It's a very vibrant culture.
Originally I was born in Lagos, Nigeria, West
Africa. I went to high school in Nigeria, and
I went to college in Paris, France. Since I left
France, I came to this country; I lived in New
York for some time. I lived in Boston, and Boston
is the best city that I like. From Boston -- I lived
in Boston for five years -- from Boston I moved to
Denver. While I was in Denver, I was in my art
part time and I was working part-time. Actually,
the reason I came to New Orleans, like most of
the people that buy art from me, focus always
on jazz. Most of the people that buy art from
me, have been to New Orleans, they always say
you should go to New Orleans, good for your art,
go to New Orleans. So four years ago, I went to
New Orleans to visit, and I was like, "Wow, this
is where I need to be." I wandered about New Orleans.
When I first moved here, at first it reminds me
of Paris, it reminds me of Paris. It's just very
European. And I think, I know it's going to be,
if not better, it's going to be like that again.
I don't know, because I know all the artists will
I think a lot of people will come back. The fellows
that I work with, you know, most of them are not
from New Orleans, the artists that work in there,
they're not from New Orleans, so I think they
will come back.
Talk about how I came to Austin, well, actually,
I left...I left my apartment in New Orleans about
four or five days after the storm. I was advised
to leave town because there would be no services
for some time. So, they took me LaFourche Parish...some
sheriff from LaFourche Parish took me. They took
us to LaFourche and from there, I decided I didn't
want to live there. I don't want to stay there.
So I was taken to Baton Rouge and from Baton Rouge,
I was going to buy a ticket to Houston.
And I met a lady, a carpool, from Maryland. They
trucked all the way from Maryland. They just arrived,
you know, they say they need three people. They
have a house and they have three rooms, you know.
So actually, I was going to go with them to Maryland.
And on our way, and after awhile, I decided I
don't want to go that too far. So I told them
to drop me off somewhere and I'm going to catch,
you know, take a bus. So I took a bus to Houston,
and I was in the shelter there for some time which
I didn't like.
It's different here from Houston. I mean the organization,¹it's
more organized here. Houston's like, you know,
the organize is not so...I can't describe it. I
just don't like the way it was set up. I didn't
like it, so I decided I'm going to leave. So I
was going to go to San Antonio and there was a
lady there -- I was deciding between San Antonio
and Austin. And there was a lady, she said, "Go
to Austin. Don't go to San Antonio."
So I said, okay, I'm going to go to Austin. This
sounded like a good nice city. It's a nice city
and it's just like a college town. If I ever decide
to leave New Orleans, which I think I'm going
to, probably I might come here, you know. I might
Yeah, I have a ticket tomorrow for twelve o'clock,
which I'm going to go back. If they don't let
me back in, let me in, I'm going to stay at the
airport until they let me in, probably a week.
They're going to open it up by the end of the
month or something like that.
I've been all over this country and I don't want
to go anywhere else.
I think this is life, this happens in life. Life
is open now, you know, you never know what's going
to happen tomorrow. I've never had this kind of
experience in my life before. I just hope that
once it happens, I hope I don't forget it and
learn from it, because every experienceâ€¹there's
no bad experience. The only bad experience is
the one that you don't learn from. If you learn
from it, then...
This is the way it has taught me a lot, what it's
like, what it's like if you plan something, if
you plan anything for the future, always say,
"If God wills." If God wills it, because we make
plans, it might not work the way we plan it. So
God is the final...it's decided, because I might
say I'm going to be somewhere tomorrow. Tomorrow,
you might not wake up tomorrow. Anything can happen.
That's what life is like. Life is like, you know -- we
have a lot of destruction in New Orleans now.
It's going to be rebuilt and maybe in the new
future, there's might be another destruction that's
going to be rebuilt. It's just like our life,
you know. You have different seasons. It might
be good and enjoy, that's life. Nothing stays
the same in this life; everything is changing.
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