Marina Eliasi is the owner and curator of Stone Sparrow Gallery in New York City, focusing on contemporary art.
When did you first realize your passion for the arts?
My mother was an aspiring artist and I grew up with access to art books, antiques and other inspiring objects as well as frequent access to museums. Art was always a place to escape to - either by making it myself or daydreaming my way through the work of others. When I was in 5th grade I painted a landscape that won first place in the town art fair and really loved the attention. I have never thought I’d end up immersed in anything but some kind of art ever since.
Were there any pivotal moments in life that made you decide to become a gallery director?
Not a pivotal moment really. I think I have been on a winding path here my entire life.
Where did the name Stone Sparrow come from?
Stone Sparrow is the name I made my wearable art jewelry brand under and it became something synonymous with my name through it’s use on social media. When I was initially launching my jewelry company, I wanted my name to align with me and my brand - something that spoke to my personality as well as the jewelry I was making. My sister and I laughed our way through dozens of names before we came up with the one that fit. Because I had built a strong brand name and following on social media, when I opened the gallery I wanted to be recognizable as the same person in my new role, so I carried it with me here.
What are some of the themes that Stone Sparrow tends to focus on and what reactions do you hope to evoke in your audience?
The artist roster at Stone Sparrow includes a mix of emerging and established artists working in realism and surrealism. I am strongly attracted to figurative work, so much of what I show is just that. For each group show, I try to fit the work / artists together under themed show prompts. Something catchy that can be openly interpreted by the artists participating. Our next show to open will be titled “Superhero” and it includes everything from a stunning portrait of an older woman who against all odds, still stands to more literal pop interpretations of costumed heroes. With each show I’m hoping for different kinds of feedback, but mostly, I want the shows to elicit emotional reactions from the viewer.
Can you recall any specific experiences you’ve had with an exhibit and/or artist that were especially fulfilling to you?
Every day in the gallery is fulfilling to me. Being able to watch a visitor fall in love with a piece or have an emotional reaction to something is particularly fulfilling. Being the one who gets to distribute the good news of a sale to an artist is amazingly fulfilling. I love being able to be the catalyst for people to get visibility and watching them blossom with positive feedback from visitors and collectors.
What do you find most rewarding about gallery directing and curating?
There are a lot of things that are rewarding about my job. Every new show that goes up is fulfilling to pull off and to step back and admire. Finding someone extremely talented who has been consistently overlooked is rewarding. Receiving thank you notes from my artists for their inclusions in beautiful shows is rewarding. And obviously, helping a collector bring home a piece that they love is rewarding.
What are some of the challenges that you face?
Well…right now is specifically challenging for a variety of reasons, but I suppose it’s challenging to every single person. Aside from the current, the most challenging thing for me is having to say no to artist’s submissions. I’d love to give everyone a stage, but it’s not possible. The face to face submissions that I have to reject are the hardest.
Are there certain qualities that you look for in artists in deciding whether they will be pleasurable to work with? And on the contrary, any areas for improvement artists should be aware of?
Yes, definitely. When deciding if an artist is a good fit for my roster, I’m not only looking at the quality and style of their work, but I’m also looking to see if the artist is someone I can work with long term. Things like manners, personability with their fans on social media (if they’re active on social media), the kind of cv they have, etc are great things to watch to find out what kind of person they are. If we can meet in person or talk rather than only email, it's ideal. I’m fortunate to have been able to meet all but a small minority of my artists in person and can say honestly that they are all wonderful people.
Do you have any specific do’s and don’ts for artists looking to submit their work to you?
We officially don’t accept submissions, so I think the biggest piece of advice I can give to an artist looking to submit their work to any gallery is to find out what their submission policies are rather than just blindly emailing, calling or mailing. Researching the kind of work a gallery shows is another big thing a lot of the submission inquiries I get have overlooked as well.
Do you have any plans for Stone Sparrow NYC beyond what it is today?
We are still in our infancy and are really just hoping to be able to remain in place beyond this time of Covid, but I always have dreams of expanding to other locations. Right now, though, I’m thrilled to be able to open my little gallery in the Village everyday.