The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown everyone a curveball: businesses closing, dark city streets, halting plans, and adapting to new routines basically overnight. Flash forward to almost a year later, and while we haven’t reached anything near peak normalcy, it’s amazing to see what has come out of this daunting time.  For Jenna Ferrey, Angie Phrasavath, and Elisabeth Johs, this time of isolation and confinement presented itself as an opportunity in disguise to open up a new gallery and to breathe some fresh air into the art world. Trotter and Sholer, located in the heart of the Lower East Side and steps away from Richard Tattinger Gallery among others, is redefining the traditional gallery model with a focus on art with a slightly lower price point, showcasing emerging artists and aimed for young and new collectors who are looking to slowly grow their collection. Since opening in September, Trotter & Scholer is well into its fifth exhibition (the current show, Shifting Spaces by Kerry Irvine is up until February 14th) and their site is filled with truly affordable good art, ranging in price from a very moderate $30 to a steeper price tag of $2,800.

Photo courtesy of Trotter & Sholer
Photo courtesy of Trotter & Sholer

If you’ve read any of my past Cultbytes articles, you know my stance on the need for more affordable art especially for young collectors (like myself) who have a strict budget and limited wall space (hello New York City living!). That precise middle ground has been hard to find, and while fairs like the Affordable Art Fair and Clio are a step in the right direction, it’s easy to succumb to frustration and throw your hands into the air. Paired with a pandemic, how many people are buying art especially if they might not be easily able to see it in person? Right now, if people are trying to limit their in-person activities, will they be willingly to visit a gallery and explore the works of a new artist? This was a question that came up during my conversation with Jenna Ferrey, as she walked me through the mission of the gallery and how they’ve been able to drive in-person traffic in lieu of press previews and art parties as well as showing artists (like Kerry Irvine) whose work is reflective of our current feelings of living in a topsy turvy world filled with setbacks.

“A lot of young and new collectors can’t afford to spend hundreds of dollars on art, especially for people who might be new to the art market and are slowly growing their collection. That’s why it was especially important for us to develop a program with the artists that we collaborate with, where we could offer different pieces of art that range from extremely affordable to a higher price point,” says Ferrey.

Finished prints by Kerry Irvine. Photo courtesy of Trotter & Sholer Instagram.

While at first glance, it might seem counterintuitive to start a business during the pandemic, Ferrey shared that “during these months where life was at a standstill, Angie, Elizabeth and I came up with the idea of starting a gallery. In a city as fast-paced at New York City, these quiet months at home helped us come to this decision. While there have been some new challenges such as the limitations on the total number of people in the space at one time and a mask mandate, this comes with the territory of opening a business during an unknown time. Our combined long-term experience working in the art world has allowed us to join forces, connect with our larger network of artists, friends and curators that we know.”

Curator Clayton Calvert and artist Kerry Irvine. Photo courtesy of Trotter & Sholer’s Instagram.

For artists like Kerry Irvine who temporarily lost her studio space during Covid-19, Trotter & Sholer has been a supportive force during this trying time for artists and art lovers alike. While it’s certainly no easy feat to put together an exhibition, it feels good to see galleries with the lights on and to see new collaborations happening. Irvine’s exhibition, Shifting Space, feels so fitting for this moment since 2020 called for us to abandon old routines, and to revamp our normal sense of routines and ways of going about business. Curated by Clayton Calvert, the exhibition considers the role that location and space play in terms of psychology, energy, and creativity.

Kerry Irvine’s studio. Photo courtesy of the artist’s Instagram.

Irvine, a prolific painter who incorporates a wide variety of mediums and materials into her work, had to relocate during the pandemic from her large-scale, light-soaked artist studio on the 80th floor of 3 World Trade Center to her own apartment. Like many of us this past year, Irvine worked from her kitchen table and was met with a number of challenges including physical space and adapting to working with acrylic paint (which is easier to work within a smaller space). During her time at home, Irvine created the Kitchen Series, a collection aptly named after many months of working in her kitchen studio. I don’t think I could identify more with the Kitchen Series, a painted expression of the pent-up anxiety, unknowns about the future and loneliness that we’ve all been feeling.  Via email, Irvine explained that Kitchen #1 is the perfect example of the frustration, stress and fear running rampant during the height of the pandemic: “It is tight and raw with scratchy thin lines. The colors mimic the palette I had been using in my studio yet different because I was using different mediums I was not used to. I think #1 shows how claustrophobic I was feeling. We were fearful to go anywhere back then and told to make ourselves small and stay hidden away in our homes. I was also now confined to the edges of these 32”x 20” pre cut blank papers I had in front of me.”

Kitchen Series #1

Although Irvine didn’t know it at the time, the space limitations in her apartment and having to get creative in terms of supplies on hand forced her to grow and adapt her practice: “It took a while to get my self to feel good about painting. I was obsessed with the news. We watched the world get scarier and scarier each day. NYC was really getting hit hard and I began to feel a bit paralyzed by the never-ending loop of fear and confusion we had fallen into. Finally, I started to work and immediately felt the frustration of working with a medium I had become unfamiliar with since I use oil paint in the studio. Normally I work on several pieces at once but because of my new small studio/kitchen, I was forced to work on one piece at a time.  Desperate for mixed media options, I scoured the almost empty craft section at Target, grabbing paint markers, crayons, sharpies – whatever was left. Home Depot was another favorite outing for supplies where I was able to buy brown craft paper, seam tape, sponges, rollers, etc.”

Kitchen Series #5

On top of that, Trotter & Sholer has been able to provide a safe art-viewing experience since so many of us have gone many months without seeing art in person. With exhibitions planned through the fall, I can’t wait to visit in person. Masks are required to go into the gallery, and appointments are encouraged in order to see the art safely and to space out the appointments. For those who aren’t quite at the level of wanting to see places in person, you can visit the gallery’s website for the full VR tour of Kerry Irvine’s stunning studio at 3 World Trade Center.

Shifting Spaces by Kerry Irvine is still viewable on Eazel

About the author:

Alexandra Israel is a freelance public relations specialist for arts & culture, lifestyle and publishing clients.  She is also a writer for Cultbytes. A museum aficionado since her introduction to Jean Dominque Ingres’ portraits as a small child, she enjoys spending her free time at museums and finding off-the-beaten-track gallery shows. Since graduating with honors from Bates College in 2010, Alexandra has held positions at various publishing companies, foundations, and PR firms. She has held positions at Penguin Book Group, Aperture Foundation, and Third Eye among others.