by Elizabeth Coady
Sara McCorriston drolly recounts how some people have called her ‘‘brave’’ because she dares to leave the few gray hairs in her mass of dark tresses au naturel. As if a few aberrant melanin-deprived strands portend failure or the derailment of youth.
The dig actually shows a lack of insight into McCorriston, whose biography reveals a woman who seems to have always been in a bit of a hurry to get to where she was going. She graduated a year early from high school, held down two full-time jobs a mere week after she graduated college, and opened her own art gallery at the age of 21.
Now 30, McCorriston has arrived: She is co-owner of Paradigm Gallery + Studio, a Queen Village art gallery (746 S. 4th St.) touted in Philadelphia Magazine’s 2018 “Best of” issue as the place to “discover up-and-coming artists.’’ And, as an art dealer, she’s found those gray hairs come in handy.
“Turning 30 was so nice because I think I can finally tell people my age,’’ said McCorriston, a striking brunette who grew up in Washington’s Crossing. “ … Do you want to hear someone is 22 who’s selling you a $5,000 piece of artwork? A lot of people aren’t into that.
“I still think people are, like, 30, that’s really young,” said McCorriston, who attended Mount St. Joseph Academy in Flourtown for 9th and 10th grades and later, Chestnut Hill College for a year of graduate school.
“But I can say, ‘Oh yeah, but I’ve owned my business for eight-and-a-half years. I don’t dye my hair, so people can see my gray hair and can think I’m older than I am.’’ (Sara had commuted for two years from the New Hope area to Mount St. Joseph before her parents pulled the plug due to the insane commute.)
Philadelphia Magazine shone its spotlight on Paradigm Gallery + Studio in its August ‘Best of’ edition, calling it an “unpretentious’’ gallery that “showcases about-to-make-it-big artists from all over the world but has a special focus on locals.”
“It’s fantastic,’’ McCorriston said of the publication’s nod. “I’m happy that we didn’t get it five years ago because I don’t even think that we would have been ready for it … It means that when we hit 10 years old, it’ll still feel relevant. We felt ready for it.’’
Paradigm was founded in February, 2010, by McCorriston and Jason Chen, who met while at the University of the Arts, where Chen majored in animation and photography and McCorriston graduated with a degree in theatrical design and technology. The two became friends when Chen asked McCorriston to model for his photo shoots.
“He realized how bad I am at modeling,’’ McCorriston said. “And then he realized I knew makeup and lighting and staging and all that and that this would be more helpful for his photo shoots anyway.’’
After graduating, the two decided to share studio space, which quickly turned into the first location of Paradigm. Twelve years and two locations later, the friends are still collaborating. “Jason does everything that has to do with the aesthetic representation of Paradigm, and I am the kind of ‘back-end financial business’ side of it,’’ said McCorriston.
The gallery specializes in representing what McCorriston calls “new contemporary’’ art such as Hunter Stabler’s “mesmerizing paper-cuts,’’ as Philly Mag calls them, to the evocative realism of Katherine Fraser to the fantastical surrealism of Yis ‘Nosego’ Goodwin, who has since blown up on the international art scene.
“He was the first artist we ever exhibited in this space, and we were selling pieces of his,’’ McCorriston said of Nosego. “Some of his pieces were under a hundred bucks. I do have pieces of his, and he is now internationally renowned.’’
Don’t ask McCorriston which artist she’s exhibited is her favorite. I did, and her voice dropped to a pained whisper as she answered, “I feel like that’s asking me who my favorite child is.
“I’m typically most excited about the thing that’s happening now, which is what I’m supposed to be. But we sell work from all of our collections all year round. Like just because something’s not hanging up, we’re still working on it and selling it.”
The gallery owners help the artists manage their market presence to ensure they don’t deflate the value of their own works. “It’s tempting to pick up every single opportunity, but [we] explain to people that that potentially can just, like, kill your market if you overextend yourself.’’
McCorriston and Chen are also providing art works for events and hotels. Last year they won the bid to install 500 pieces at the Boutique Hotel Revival in downtown Baltimore. They’ve also sold another 32 pieces to an as-yet announced cruise launching next year.
“It’s a constant hustle. I like the hustle,” said McCorriston, who spends up to 14 hours a day answering buyer queries, reviewing artist submissions, planning future exhibits and arranging shipping of artwork. “People say if you love what you do, you never go to work a day in your life. Yes you do. You go to work every single day of your life … It is work, and you should take it seriously … We’ve been lucky in may ways, but these things didn’t happen by chance.’’
In her own personal art collection, Sara has prints from Alexander Calder and Robert Indiana that come from her uncle’s art collection as well as pieces she’s accumulated over the last 15 years.