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Chapel Hill artist is selling his priceless art at Crook’s Corner

Paul Hsurovsky in his studio off Franklin Street.
Paul Hsurovsky in his studio off Franklin Street.

He’s displaying it in Crook’s Corner restaurant throughout November and letting his pieces sell for any price, donating all proceeds to the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service.

Hrusovsky is something of an enigma. He has been displaying his art at Crook’s Corner for nearly three decades and has been friends with owner Gene Hamer for just as long.

“People like Paul. They like his work,” Hamer said. “He’s been around a long time, and he’s taught a lot of the kids here art.”

The 66-year-old artist started selling artwork at the age of 18. He moved to Chapel Hill from Ohio 30 years ago and began teaching art to elementary schoolers soon after.

Hrusovsky said that because he paints so frequently, donating work simply clears space in his studio. He said that in the past, he has considered using his art for a bonfire with some of his friends.

“If someone were to come in and say, ‘Can I have that?’ I would say ‘Yes, just take it!’” he said.

Crook’s Corner displays artwork year-round, and the artists rotate each month.

“The artwork is all a part of the idea of the restaurant we present. The food is Southern. It’s culinary art.” Hamer said. “It changes the look of the restaurant every month.”

Hrusovsky said the art he displays at Crook’s is typically abstract.

“I only have one narrative piece, and that’s above the bar, and it’s called ‘Holy Cow.’ It’s a cow with a golden halo, and that satisfies my fans there,” he said.

Hamer does not charge commission, so artists can charge a lower price, but this doesn’t affect Hrusovsky, whose work has no set price.

Hamer didn’t know Hrusovsky was going to do this until the day his paintings went up.

“He just walked in, and he said, ‘There’s a twist on this,’” Hamer said. “He said, ‘They’re all for free,’ and I said, ‘What?’ And he said, ‘Well, they’re for people to come up with their own price, and all the money goes to the soup kitchen.’”

Hrusovsky said he’s doing this because he wants to make his artwork in Crook’s affordable and approachable for young people. He also said he wants to draw attention to the IFC food bank, his favorite charity.

“I think it’s important to somehow deal with hunger and keep that food bank stocked,” he said. “I understand because, growing up, there were moments in my life when my family would have food insecurity, and so I know retrospectively what that feels like.”

John Dorward, executive director at IFC, said he is thankful for Hrusovsky’s project. However, he has not had much contact with the man himself.

“Paul is a really mysterious guy,” Dorward said. “He didn’t tell us anything.”

Dorward said Hrusovsky sends IFC money consistently throughout the year.

“He’s doing a very nice thing here,” Dorward said.

Hrusovsky doesn’t know how many paintings have sold or for what price. He said he was worried to find out, though he hopes to raise at least $2,000. Though Hrusovsky has received envelopes of money, he said he hasn’t looked inside any of them.

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“I’m just a little unsure of my social experiment. I’m a little nervous,” he said. “I never stopped to think, ‘Well, maybe they don’t want that artwork,’ so that was awfully pretentious of me to think that I could just put it out there and people would be fighting over it.”

In fact, Hrusovsky didn’t know it, but the “Holy Cow” painting has already been sold.

But many regulars at Crook’s Corner were still unaware of the project. Hamer said he hopes this will change when the Crook’s monthly newsletter is released.

“Very few people come in just for the art, but they like it when they waltz in there and see it,” he said. “They come in for the food, because we’re a restaurant, not a gallery.”

Hrusovsky said he paints for fun.

“I’m not one of these artists that really cares. I’m not struggling to be accepted. I don’t care what people say about the work. I’ve made it so long and been around here so long. I just want to give it all away.”