Stephen Romano (extreme left) with Joe Coleman and friends at the opening reception of ‘Opus Hypnagogia’

So what makes art dealers select the pieces that they do? Commercial instinct? A certain aesthetic?
In many spheres, art is simply, all about the money. Money for investment, money to launder and money to translate into status. However, there must be some collectors who are in it for more than just financial gain or its associative power, or am I a deluded idealist, destined to starve in an attic rather than ‘get real’.
I have noticed that there are collectors of both art and antiquities that gravitate towards the indefinable, not the object itself but the feel of the object. I do it myself with bones and found items, opening myself up to what is contained rather than the container.
I talked once to a very urbane, very important antiquities dealer about this after I’d wandered through a 4 story Georgian house that contained just a fraction of his collection.
I presented my own experiences to him of going for the feel rather than the outward appearance, and he said he did the same.
In the antiques trade it is called having ‘the eye’, the ability to see beyond.
However, in art as with antiquities there are those who are in it purely for financial gain, and there are those that walk in their world for love, but balance their collecting with a professionalism that communicates their passion and makes its perpetuation possible.
I’ve come across reference to Stephen Romano’s Gallery and the artists exhibited there on various occasions. Although there was an eclecticism in the work shown, there was also a continuing thread of power and spirituality in all the work displayed.
While I was in New York we had tried to meet up to talk further but circumstances thwarted us. Thus I’d initially tried to interview Stephen in a more formal manner via e mail, but I can get over excitable and avalanche people with words and as someone who likes to think before he replies (unlike hyper reactive me) we decided to have a more relaxed approach so we conversed over a meandering face book message thread.
I’ve  removed many of my interruptions and comments from the following, as they interfered with the flow of the discussion.

Where are you from originally?
Montreal I guess, hard to draw a line where the story begins, so perhaps best to say Canada.

How long has art been part of your journey?
I’ve been drawing since I was 2. I had an aunt who was a successful Canadian abstract artist, she would bring me books on Durer, Bosch, Rembrandt and Dali. She encouraged me, enriched me. I always knew that I was going to be an artist, there was never any doubt.

She sounds a gift of a woman!
I struggled through high school as an outsider, I was in bands and stuff.

As a singer or a musician?
Singer…just always trying to find my place.

I could never get that ‘school-days are the best days of your life’ rubbish…
I was banging my head against the wall and then found the works of Anton LaVey when I was 13 or 14 which was a shot in the arm for my morale, and a huge affirmation for me.
Then later I went to community college and met ‘a master’ Ray Robinson who introduced me to deeper stuff, Castaneda, Shree Rajneesh and de Chardin.
Anyway, all the while the goal was to become a practising artist, which I did well into my 30’s. Then I hit my endgame, I was making black squares, essentially filled with rhetoric. So I went off into the world of art dealing. I just disengaged my passion for making art altogether.

Was the art you were creating spiritual?
The art? No more like Ad Reinhardt and Gerhard Mertz. ThinkArt!

Wow- was that change of directions difficult or just a transference of creativity?
Totally hard. Like a withdrawal from heroin. It was in my blood but I was tired of living a marginalized life, somehow art dealing was more empowering, so I apprenticed with a few major people, learned the ropes and the game and ten years later I was a private art dealer, doing well.

So what did these major people teach you?
Presentation is everything.
Know your facts all the way down the line.
Life is once, show up for it.
Always have the artist’s integrity at the forefront.
Don’t try to sell your friendship, sell the work.
Only present works you would want for yourself.

You love what you do?
Sure of course. It’s all I think about, that’s how I got to here.

Or is it just a job?
It’s not a job at all. I don’t even remotely think in that way. I had a job once, it was awful.

So what presses your buttons? From what I have seen of the art that you gravitate towards, there is a real mysticism and power in what you’re attracted to?
I have a background in contemporary but also Outsider and folk art, vernacular art. To me the whole thing is about, self-perpetuation and expanding your boundaries. Going through dark waters to find one truer light. An awakening, otherwise we are just specimens of a species that procreates and produces fertiliser. What sets us up from the other animals basically is our ability to perpetuate our intellect into the realms of the esoteric, the spiritual, the meta.
Now I would argue apes and dolphins and whales and others have the ability to do that as well and are as soulful as we are, more actually. The highest order of sentient beings is not actually man but as a generalised self-referential concept, let’s just start with that.
So…here’s my pitch.
Given the vastness of space, that we live in a universe that has no known boundary, the concept of the scale of spatial infinity is one that does JUST fit into our brains. I’m talking about the actual known cosmic space, not internal universe and the vastness of the breadth of time. That… what is it…12 billion years since the big bang theory, and we aren’t even sure of that any more. Time will flow infinitely into the future regardless of whether we survive as a species or not.
So we live for a very brief time, in a very microcosmic space.

O yes, life is so very, very short.
Given that realisation, one would be likely to succumb to despair and the hopelessness of our existence yeah?

Depends on who you are
Yeah, yeah, but I mean the average person or the general population, not the exceptions.

So what is the purpose? Well in my experience and that’s all I’m talking about anyway, what sustains me out of that angst is the need for self-actualisation, the perpetuation of the spiritual, contact with the higher order.

I relate!
And that to me is achieved through culture, specifically the visual arts. I consider the visual arts to be the jewel in the crown of our cultural achievements, I mean you don’t go to The Met to go shopping, you go for self-enrichment. I mean you COULD I guess, but you’d be missing the point. So there we are face to face with a great art work, having a primary experience with the real thing, not the JPEG. And we are so humbled that for 5 seconds we manage to turn off our internal dialogue lose our self-importance and be in the NOW and somehow through this experience we get a sense, maybe on an intuitive level I don’t know, that our potential as a species is so much greater. It is what de Chardin would call a ‘Biophilic’ moment as opposed to say, looking at something that dumb’s down our perceptual senses which I would call a ‘necrophilic’ moment, one that embraces the death of the psyche.

Like TV?
Sure, or Andy Warhol, or Jeff Koons not that I dislike them particularly, for me, and here’s where it gets beautiful, for me the TRUE artist has a shamanistic role to perpetuate the sense of hope and optimism and love and unity in our culture. To reintroduce and re inject the sense of magic, THAT is the true artist to me, not the showman.

Agreed but in my mind to also guide through the hopes and fears and taboos.
The ones who want fame and money and to be irreverent, again I don’t hate those guys I just don’t take them seriously. The true artist, they are the ones who will perpetuate a culture of good will, who will unlock our greater potential those are the artists that I love.

You’re walking a fine line here between the worlds. Visible/Invisible, corporate/counter-culture
O well, the true warrior, let me find the exact quote, it’s magnificent.

‘The art of the true warrior is to balance the terror of being alive, with the wonder of being alive’ Carlos Castaneda

Perfect! I stagger continuously between the two…
The great art is nothing more than that IMHO
The true artist…the work they make, is in itself not a representation of secondary experience. That art doesn’t interest me, it is primary experience in and of itself. An act of magic; the artist takes a strand, socially, politically and spiritually.

Okay, so if you perceive the true artist to be a shaman, what is the role of the curator and the art dealer?
The presenter, nothing more (or less hahaha)

Surely if you think in those terms, you see yourself as going from being a shaman to a presenter which isn’t perhaps emotionally affirming, though perhaps more materially so?
That’s difficult to comment on, and sometimes there is an itch under my skin to return to art making, like heading into an electromagnetic storm, but my sense of self-preservation redirects me!

O creating is a bloody descent, no two ways about it- when I stopped using drugs/drinking, my artistic process was terrifying as it was such an emotional and spiritual rock and roll of a journey, that often threatened my sobriety.
I’ve been clean and sober for 28 years.

Wow…only 20 years for me! So was getting sober part of your reason for changing your creative direction?
I guess…or part of it.

At this point Stephen and I went off on various tangents before he took me on a journey of some of the art that has passed through his hands, ‘a quick tour’ as he says. An incredibly intense quick tour as all the work affected me, whether I liked the specific piece or not, and although he recently shut his Gallery he seems to be incredibly busy for the next year or so, with various art related activities at a level way beyond my ken.
However, Stephen does talk of the Gallery ‘being an ecosystem of artists, enthusiasts, collectors, writers and of course what goes on the walls’ and ‘the plays within plays that occur within the exhibition space’ and he obviously genuinely loved his Brooklyn Gallery, although is philosophical about its shutting.
Somehow, I can’t see Stephen Romano not having his own Gallery to work magic in, for very long.

William Mortenson ‘Preparation for the Sabboth’ c 1930, manipulated photograph.

Anonymous Spirit Photo, mid-western American c.1880

Wolfgang Grasse ‘Merry Go Round’ 2000

Darcilio Lima (1941-1991) ‘The Prince’ 1972

Charles Dellschau (1830-1923) ‘The Spark of Life’ 1919

Folk Magic ‘Poppets’ from Northern California C.late 1920’s


I’m leaving New York tonight to return to England and today isn’t quite the flurry of meet ups and activities that I had planned.
The Chelsea Manhattan bombing last night combined with general New Yorkers busy-ness meant that several of my meet ups have been cancelled and I’ll have to converse via e mail.
Chelsea is the very upmarket art hub where I encountered the high end gallery shock, met up with Nelson Santos from Visual AIDS and also went to the Rubin Museum and I’ve spent a lot of time there during my visit; but in view of last night’s bombing I’m very relieved that I don’t need to return to Manhattan today.
I’ve been staying in Newark, which although not far from New York is a completely different sort of vibe.
Local New Yorkers, when they found out where I was staying, were impressed and told me to ‘take care’. Ironically these were often the same people that bemoaned the clean-up and gentrification of New York.
In Newark I’ve noticed that all the police are black, but the three arrests made that I’ve seen (where the police seem to assemble in large numbers) have been made by white officers.
Newark was once very wealthy and the Newark Museum is incredible (again something that very art orientated New Yorkers that I’ve talked to didn’t realise) It has a collection of Tibetan artefacts that is one of the best in the world, and wipes the floor with the high end Rubin Gallery’s permanent exhibition,  and the exhibitions of outsider art and Afro American art is phenomenal and gave me everything that I’d hoped to find at the American Folk Museum but didn’t.
However, because it is situated in Newark, it is relatively unknown and unvisited.
Both times I visited, and yes, it is so good I went twice, it was deserted, so once again success is designated by location and ability to network.
I loved New York and intend to return there. It’s fabulous but it is very hard work. I believe that it is possible to become successful there if you have just a few of the right contacts, a lot of drive and the ability to network (o yeah…and talent!).
These are very simplistic overviews from a short period of observation of course and success is subjective.
I will say that I was impressed with the political awareness amongst the art scene there and the savvy that translates art into political protest.
In the next few weeks I should have some follow up blogs to put up, with transcripts of the email conversations with people that were unable to meet me personally.
So did the a-n travel grant benefit me? Well I have obviously been creatively inspired and had many insights from this trip, but I’ve also done an incredibly successful presentation that created great connections for future use, that I intend to follow up on.
So yes, the travel bursary was a success!

Header Image: Ronald Lockett at Newark Museum


Anyone with the drive, focus, energy and passion to make it in New York, deserves kudos. If they keep a sense of of morality, self and spirit intact, all the more power to them.

This is a driven city, and when they say it never sleeps it is partially because there is no time to rest if you want to get things done.

Yesterday was my usual art gallery/museum day (more on that in another blog) though I started with a bit of out the window ‘entertainment’ whilst having breakfast, as three large policemen and two police vans surrounded a woman in her car for an hour or so. When that weirdness finished a large man in a huge black car drove by taking photographs of me smoking on the balcony before starting a conversation with me, still on said balcony, (there was no way that I was letting him in). He said that he was from a mortgage company checking occupancy on the house I was staying in. Airbnb provides yet another interesting accommodation experience.

Anyway I closed my day with a visit to Williamsburg Music Hall to see Psychic TV’s Alienist Record Release show, which also included performances by Lydia Lunch and RETROVIRUS and Forma.

I staggered out of the theatre at two in the morning, had a magical mystery subway adventure for an hour or so until I discovered the trains weren’t running to Newark. Five in the morning saw me finally arriving home in a dodgy black cab, held together with jump leads,  driven by a obese man in a djellaba, who was seemingly in advanced stages of emphysema.

Okay digression aside. Lets talk about the concert.

Lydia Lunch and Gen. P. Orridge are both of a similar generation to myself, I grew up to their music. Lydia’s art was goth punk street fighting and strong feminism, ground in dirt and blood and spunk.

Gen. P Orridge was magic and art combined. Cutting edge, mind bending, subversion. Together with Modern Primitives, William Burroughs and a mash up of counter cultural expressions that ranged from cut ups to NLP, they were very much part of the self expression of the 80’s.

You see the 1980’s was considered to be a pre -Apocalyptical era. Everything was dark and crazy and we were protesting oppression through art…be it ‘zines, industrial music, tattoos piercings and body mods, creative political protest or new ways of presenting subversive imagery and art.

There are a lot of comparisons of that era to this. A feeling of being controlled, of rising right wing elements and an increasingly abusive power structure.

In my presentations I often pose the question, how do the younger generation react to what is happening in this world? How is it reflected in their art? The present generation’s tools are different than my era’s were, but in many ways we had more freedom to express ourselves.

We could drop out, live in squats, have drug habits, live at subsistence level, and make art.

This really isn’t an option for a younger generation, especially in places such as London and New York, and if it does happen, it’s more difficult not to drop through the cracks and disappear,

This ramble is leading somewhere by the way!

I’m going to talk about a concert where two of my peers, now older and more conventionally established were performing and how their art seems to have progressed in the face of success. Success of course being subjective. They’ve survived and make a living out of their art work, which in my mind is success.

The first band Forma, are a young American electronic band and were superb. A New Yorker I attended the concert with said this was more typical of the New York sound; electronic, high quality, dance.

Then Lydia Lunch and RetroVIRUS came on. She was magnificent. Using words, music, imagery and hard punches she knocked down the establishment on every level. Contemporary politics, gender issues, sexuality…it was all looked at, packaged into hard hitting art, then thrown at the audience who grabbed at it without really knowing what they were receiving I suspect.

She squatted at the side of the stage having a cigarette taken from her large red handbag which was sitting by the drum kit; heavy bosomed, dressed in black and completely magnificent.

Then onto Psychic TV. Gen P Orridge is the master of manipulating, subverting and reflecting modernity. From her work with Burroughs, Gysin, Tibetan Buddhism and TOPY her genre spans music, film, art and her own body and sexual and emotional expressions.

Okay she is now being exhibited in major galleries, and in advertising campaigns by Marc Jacobs and I read somewhere that she was at a party recently with Donald Trump’s daughter…will age have diluted her?

A resounding NO! The light show which integrated dream machine like strobing, cut ups and subliminals was fantastic. The band were great musicians who were fun, subversive and political outspokem making particular reference to the North Dakota pipeline.

I think most artists would agree that power in art changes with the focus and perception of the viewer and a savvy artist can use this to raise and change consciousness.

All of the performers at the Williamsburg Music Hall worked with this premise of manipulating the audiences consciousness. Forma did it for dance, and Lydia Lunch and Psychic TV did it for love, radical transformation and good old fashioned kick-arse art.

The tickets were cheap too, which is a subversion in itself.


Seeing the Work of my art-hero, Bill Traylor, in actuality at Newark Museum.

Warhol at the Newark Museum

Unknown artist, probably carved for a movie theatre premier of ‘King Kong’.

Purvis Young at Newark Museum

Newark street art