“Feels like Home”: Introducing Stephen Romano Gallery

Stephen Romano Gallery is set to open its doors on April 3 as a part of DUMBO’s First Thursday Gallery Walk. We caught up with founder Stephen Romano to talk about his new gallery, self-taught art, and why he chose to settle down in DUMBO.

Tell us about Stephen Romano Gallery.

SR: My plan in opening Stephen Romano Gallery is to create a program that balances the great artists of our time with the masters of visionary and self-taught art.

You have been a private dealer for quite some time, why have you decided to open a brick and mortar gallery space?

SR: I have been involved in dealing since my mid-20's when I worked for the legendary Toronto dealer Walter Moos. He was a mentor and taught me a lot about presenting artists with the utmost respect and integrity. Another formative experience was working at Ricco Maresca Gallery, which specialized in folk and self-taught art, such as Henry Darger, Charles Dellschau, and Martin Ramirez.

I became a private art dealer for 10 or so years after that and found myself working with and exhibiting contemporary artists in fairs such as ARTnow, the Outsidr Art Fair, The Metro Show, and Pulse. I began to understand that the connection between the historical works and the contemporary ones was the artist's uncompromising need to create art from their own life experiences rather than any predominant discourse occurring in the art world.

Why did you decide to open your space in DUMBO?

SR: It's very difficult to separate yourself from the herd in this day and age. Why go through all that bother to be just another Chelsea gallery? DUMBO is a vibrant fresh breath of air. It's a healthy place to be, the architecture is diverse, and the people are vibrant, very well informed, and extremely friendly. People come here to discover. People are in DUMBO because they want to be here. That's why I chose it, it feels like home.

It's ONE stop from Manhattan, and anyone who would have come to see me on LES or in Chelsea will come to DUMBO, even just for the sake of adventure. 111 Front Street, with its community of dealers with varying experience and presentation styles, provides an exciting opportunity for collectors, critics, and art enthusiasts to make discoveries. You don’t get that opportunity in the more polarized art centers. By the time something gets on the walls of a Chelsea gallery, it's pretty much past the point of being a discovery. What's really exciting to me is that many of the more established artists want to re-invigorate themselves by connecting with the energy that's being generated in Brooklyn now.

Most importantly, Brooklyn has been my only New York home since I moved here from Toronto in 1991, and so being in DUMBO adds another dimension of excitement to the project for me.

Tell us about Welcome to the Dreamtime, Stephen Romano Gallery’s inaugural exhibition.

SR: In aboriginal mythology, "Dreamtime" is a sacred era in which ancestral spirit beings created the world. This is a creative space which has its parallel in the artists' studio and in the gallery. The artists are the creators, making images and objects with their hands, imbued with their spirits and their souls. In most cases, there is an affirmation that the material word and the spiritual world overlap, and in every instance the artist's courage to go into unexplored territory, no matter how uncharted or even unsettling, is enormously evident in the works.

Only an artist can understand that. We, as collectors and critics and dealers can appreciate it though, and support and patronize their efforts and that enriches our lives. So whether we are looking at Henry Darger, Sonya Fu, Colin Christian, Rene Pierre Allain, Mia Makila, Mahwish Chishty, Peca, William Mortensen, or Darcilio Lima, we are looking at an artist who is or was almost certainly isolated to some extent because of the uniqueness and strength of their vision and the commitment it requires to make their art. At the same time, the art they made as a result is certainly an affirmation and encouragement to others who may see things differently as well. That is really the guiding principle and philosophy of the gallery, to exhibit the works of artists that I think are visionaries, historical or contemporary.

Henry Darger At Wickey Sansina, date unknown. Image courtesy Stephen Romano Gallery.