Shiver: the online art gallery making the work of emerging artists accessible to all

Introducing Annabelle Byrne: a Walthamstow based artist who spends half her time being a bartender and every waking moment building her online art gallery Shiver. A true independent spirit, she lives by her own rules and tries to break down the barriers of the elitist art world by showcasing the work of young emerging artists.

Starting out painfully shy, hating a classical school environment and being drawn to the idea of working for herself, she got her BTEC art qualification instead of doing her A levels and went on to study Fashion Promotion and Imaging at the University for the Creative Arts in Epsom, with a focus on fashion photography.

“It had really been a toss-up between choosing fashion photography or fine art and in some ways I wish I had chosen fine art as I feel like my aim was always to take the elements of fashion photography that I liked but bring that into fine art. When I spoke about this with my tutor during my final major project, I was pretty much shut down and told ‘that’s not how it works’… After that I stopped listening to him and did the final major project I wanted to do, lost marks because of it, but produced a body of work that I still feel proud of. I definitely fell out of love with photography for a while after that though. University ruined it! I didn’t really feel there was a place for me to go down that route at that time. It took five years for me to start thinking of shoots I wanted to do again.”

Next to producing her own work, she now focuses on providing other talented up and coming artists with a platform. “Shiver is an online and, when the world get’s less Covid-y, pop-up art gallery with the aim of showcasing and supporting emerging artists, while offering affordable artwork to customers of all price points.” 

Making way for a new generation of artists

As somebody full of new ideas, she started out with a concept called EXHBT: an online platform for existing art galleries where they could show their exhibitions online through 360 photography. “My aim was to try and create more space in the art world for more artists to make a living doing what they loved. I thought if I could help galleries reach a wider audience, this would lead to more sales and therefore more opportunities for others.” 

After developing EXHBT for a while, working a full time office job on the side and learning more about business in her spare time, she realised she didn’t want to take it any further. “It’s a nice idea, but I eventually realised I was going down a very long-winded way around it. The art world is very cliquey and unless you’re already in, it’s very hard to get anywhere unless you really push. But I realised that’s not what I wanted, I hate that elitist, exclusive shit!” 

Do you remember 2019’s most discussed piece of ‘fine art’? Maurizio Cattelan’s work ‘Comedian’, simply a banana taped to a wall, was a great example of art reaching all layers of society, but it also made it painfully clear how the art world works. Would the work have been equally successful if it wasn’t taped to the wall of a classic white cube that drew a large number of art critics? Being a self made artist without any formal training, Cattelan is incredibly lucky to create a piece of work that cost him a few pennies in materials, but sold for a whopping $120.000. But that could never have happened if he wasn’t in the eye of the upper layer of the art world.

Shiver: open to all

To create a more accessible environment, she pivoted EXHBT into Shiver and focused on the people she actually wanted to help: emerging artists and those who feel excluded by the art world. The result is a gallery very much open to all: Shiver has a very approachable vibe for people from all kinds of backgrounds, stripped from the usual posh appearance of galleries and properly introduces the artists it represents without neglecting their roots. And the most satisfying of all: it stays away from the pretentious art world jargon that makes you squint, read a description over and over and ultimately question your ability to understand the English language. 

“I am really proud of the artist collective we have at the moment and the vast variety of styles we have, which I’m hoping to grow even wider! We’re all classed as ’emerging artists’ although most if not all of us will have been practising art most of our lives but none of us are currently able to solely make a living from it yet. Not that this is everyone’s aim, but it is my aim to give them that option. Sally Bellano and Alecks Ayling both work with me at Brewdog in Clerkenwell, bartending pays our bills and then art has to fit around that, which can be frustrating but it’s just the way it is for now, and the way it is for most people.”

Now Shiver is up and running, Annabelle realised that it’s not just something she can do all by herself, but she can actually see the immediate effects on the artists whose work she sells and the happy customers who receive it.

2020 as the start of a new era

The art world is known for doing the same thing for years, but not seeing the same results. The world around us is changing fast, but the art world is not adapting. “It’s like with social media marketing for example, the same things that worked three years ago won’t be working now. Algorithms change, peoples behavioural patterns changed, etc. The need for more online engagement and to be more than just a room with white walls with an expensive painting on them was already apparent prior to COVID.” But Annabelle is hopeful: the pandemic might just be the kind of shakeup the art world needs to get back on track, modernise and offer space to new initiatives such as Shiver.

And what’s next for Shiver?

“I’m currently setting up more artists and online exhibitions which I’d like to consistently aim to show every other week and introducing more activism within our platform. Art and activism have a long history of going hand in hand and everything we do impacts something or someone else, so I feel passionate about helping to spread good. I’m currently working on plans for October, with it being Black History Month I want to use Shiver as a platform to spread anti-racist information and raising funds for Black Minds Matter.”

Check out Shiver’s online gallery for an ever growing collection of art prints from young emerging artists, in disciplines anywhere from fine art to collage and photography, and everything in between. And to stay in the loop about new exhibitions launching, keep an eye on Shiver’s Instagram.