By VITTORIA BENZINE, February 2021
Kerry Irvine’s paintings beg to be plucked and savored straight from the bough. The New York City-based abstract expressionist seduces her classically discordant style into something juicy, scintillating and luscious. However, even with decades of practice under her belt, Irvine’s sensuality is still susceptible to circumstance. Shifting Spaces, Irvine’s latest solo show, explores the impact this past year’s pandemic produced within her creative headspace and output. Without comment, the show’s context pays tribute to beauty’s persistence.
Shifting Spaces juxtaposes Irvine’s most recent works against each other. A small portion of the paintings on display were completed in Irvine’s spacious studio at 3 World Trade Center. Others are from her Kitchen series, a fifteen-part collection created during quarantine from her comparatively compact West Village apartment.
“I had started getting fearful that last week in February,” the artist recounted over FaceTime. “That’s when all of the the hand sanitizer was disappearing off the shelves.” Fortunately, she’d been forewarned that her studio would shut down. Irvine placed a sizable order with Blick, bearing in mind the unique constraints implied by shifting into a work space with less square footage and less ventilation. When stay at home orders were extended and Irvine’s supplies ran dry, imagination led the artist on a roundabout route. Target’s arts and crafts section ushered playful inputs like oil pastels and paint markers into her professional practice.
“It took me a while to get into the groove,” Irvine recalled. “I laid the brown craft paper on the big table and I waited.” Creating in her economically apportioned galley kitchen required a rhythmic adaptation. Rather than working on five pieces at once, the tight quarters required she pace herself one at a time.
The artist’s reluctance found its ceasefire in Kitchen #1, a frenetic composition more closely resembling classical abstract expressionism than Irvine’s own luxurious take. “There's no collage on it,” she observed of the originating work. “It’s very tight and angry.” Re-learning paint sticks and acrylic proved more harrowing than she’d expected, and Kitchen #1 became a realtime monument to these early quarantine’s frustrations. “It’s these skinny, scratchy lines, like nails on a chalkboard,” Irvine described, gripping to articulate the work’s dissonance.
Emboldened by the initial success of at least finishing the piece, Irvine set to work completing successive additions to her Kitchen series approximately every three days. By Kitchen #8, she’d secured her stride. With that work, Irvine said, “I got closer to my old self. It’s a bit softer and flowing.” Shifting Spaces features five of the fifteen pieces comprising this series—a well-balanced collection ranging #1 to #12 that thoroughly illustrates her internal, homebound journey.
Irvine returned to her sun-bathed studio in May, armed with the works she’d completed at home. “When I got back to the studio, it’s not like I had frozen and taken however many months off, I was ready to go,” she recalled. One day, curator Clayton Calvert invited Trotter&Sholer's co-founders to meet the artist at her studio. Enamored of Irvine’s recent works, the gallerists suggested a potential solo show.
Ever the hardworking perfectionist, Irvine worried that she didn’t have enough new, coherent creations to warrant an exhibition. Trotter&Sholer’s team regarded the Kitchen series with enthusiasm and a firm belief in the story they told. “You’ve got it right here,” the two women espoused. “Here's the proof that you survived and are continuing to.”
Furthermore, Trotter&Sholer’s vision-driven duo challenged Irvine to complete the two canvases she’d left unfinished on the 80th floor of 3 World Trade Center when her studio shut down. One of these is The Bullfighter and Ballerina, a large-scale painting in the ilk of Irvine’s pre-pandemic practice, featuring the insights she gleaned amongst turmoil. “Because of that concentrated time I had spent developing, not knowing but developing, a new story in my mind, I was able to paint those pieces,” Irvine explained. Alongside The Matador’s Waltz, these two traditional canvases provide the succulence some might seek from Irvine’s practice, armed with a more informed intuition. “They’re much freer and looser and expansive,” the artist herself noted. “I was back to oil again, but with a new understanding.”
That understanding stems from a profound liberation. “I'm more in the headspace now of creating more and more,” Irvine mused. “I'm really now in a mindset of doing what I want to do for me, not thinking strategically as much about what's sellable.” Exemplified through uncanny experiments like the advent of seam tape procured on a Home Depot whim, Irvine’s explorations thus far have led her work to more 3-D, tactile realm.
From this fecund entanglement of materials, experiences, and feelings, Irvine hopes viewers derive a sense of survival and, more importantly, hope. “I think there's a lot of strength in those pieces, wrapped up in a little bit of femininity and softness,” she remarked of the Kitchen series and the large-scale canvases that trailed their wake. “I have struggled with that as a female artist, not thinking my work was gutsy or toothy enough.” Shifting Spaces shows how Irvine leaned on her tastes for beauty even while gritting her teeth and bearing the unexpected. Maybe she’s come to understand that a feminine sheen resembles strength in its own right—a sleek lacquer that’s hard-shelled nonetheless.
After all, Irvine did manage to team up with her colleagues and launch a successful solo show during the insufferably dragging midst of this endless pandemic. “Regardless of what happens with any of the work, we all did it,” Irvine declared. “Our history is that we had the balls to go out there.” With that, the artist turns her eyes to the next series. “Let's just get through and get this world back together—move on and continue to do great stuff.” For now, the dichotomous works presented throughout Shifting Spaces are ripe for the picking at Trotter&Sholer until February 14th, united by a self-sustaining suppleness that withstands even unprecedented difficulty. WM
Vittoria Benzine is a street art journalist and personal essayist based in Brooklyn, New York. Her affinity for counterculture and questioning has introduced her to exceptional artists and morally ambiguous characters alike. She values writing as a method of processing the world’s complexity. Send love letters to her via: @vittoriabenzine // firstname.lastname@example.org // vittoriabenzine.com
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