Visions in tandem: Artists Katy Schneider and Jim Armenti team up to get through abysmal time

  • Artist Katy Schneider is creating a painting a day of ordinary and often overlooked items using 3-by-4-inch aluminum slides from Smith College, where she’s taught art for 30 years. Once complete, she sends the paintings to musician Jim Armenti, who writes a poems about them. These paintings are hanging in Schneider’s studio in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Artist Katy Schneider is creating a painting a day of ordinary and often overlooked items using 3-by-4-inch aluminum slides from Smith College, where she’s taught art for 30 years. Once complete, she sends the paintings to musician Jim Armenti, who writes a poems about them. The paintings are hanging in Schneider’s studio in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Katy Schneider talks about the oil on aluminum paintings hanging on the walls of her Northampton studio. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jim Armenti and Katy Schneider discuss some of the paintings Schneider has created as part of a collaboration that has helped get them through the pandemic. Armenti has written poems for nearly all of Schneider’s 3-by-4-inch paintings displayed on the walls in her studio in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Katy Schneider talks about the oil on aluminum paintings hanging on the walls of her Northampton studio. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Katy Schneider’s painting of a colander. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Katy Schneider’s painting of a broken plate. SUBMITTED PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 10/30/2020 4:07:04 PM

Like so many of us, artist Katy Schneider worried about how to face quarantine and its uncertainty. Rather than bake sourdough, she reached for a bunch of discarded 3-by-4-inch aluminum slides from Smith College, where she’s taught art for 30 years.

“I knew I could repurpose the aluminum plates,” Schneider says. “I knew I needed a project to get through quarantine. I like working on things that are the same size.”

She decided to paint shoes each day. “I wanted to play with color and texture,” she says. “These tiny paintings became an exercise to keep me in the studio.”

After a few weeks, she shared the images with friends, inviting them to write stories or poems about the paintings, “as a fun pandemic activity.”

Her most loyal respondent was musician, music teacher and songwriter Jim Armenti.

“Jim wrote about every single shoe painting,” Schneider says. There were 40 paintings.

Schneider moved on from shoes. She began to paint other things she found around her house, like “laundry in a laundry basket.” Schneider has focused on portraits or still lifes. This foray into small paintings of everyday objects — from a birthday cake slice to a dental flosser — marked a departure. Meanwhile, she kept sending Armenti images.

“Jim continued to write a poem about each painting. It was like we became beholden to one another to complete this daily practice, which has become essential. As soon as I am in my basement sitting with my paints, I feel more relaxed; it’s like a dopamine infusion.”

She’s barely missed a day. And, this routine has spawned others.

“My dog, who comes to the basement studio with me, stands eagerly by the basement door,” Schneider says. “I listen to podcasts while I paint.”

Schneider thinks this new habit has allowed her to become unafraid of the process.

“Unlike portraiture, which I’ve done so much of, these paintings are of things I’ve never focused upon,” Schneider says. “I feel no pressure to match my best work, because I don’t have best work of these objects; it’s all new discoveries. I’m creating these weirdly joyful images during an abysmal time. It’s energizing. I’m having fun with it.”

She tries to bring fun into the classes she teaches, currently remotely, to Smith College students as well.

The completed images fill much of two walls of a garage studio space. Day by day, it’s become “the biggest painting I’ve ever made. I tend to work small. I become impatient to finish things,” Schneider says. “I’m finishing something each day and get to watch a larger entity unfold in front of my eyes. I realize that there’s no goal to this, but that the practice, including the intimacy of sharing it with Jim, helps to keep me mentally healthy. I am not unraveling, as I would have if I wasn’t wrapped up in this practice.”

Schneider enjoys the fact that the slide dividers worked to protect history — slides — and that she’s repurposing them to create an historical document.

“These images preserve this time in history, as the slides did before they were digitized,” she reflects. “We are all going through this at once, but alone, and there’s something echoed in that from the tiny images, each divided by squares on the wall, as the dividers kept the slides from one another originally.”

She doesn’t know what she’ll do if the pandemic outlasts her slides’ stash.

‘The Katy Shoe Project’

Armenti has labeled a file on his computer desktop “the Katy Shoe Project.” He “loves writing poetry,” but doesn’t identify as a poet. He loved “the solidity of the project right away. It was in my wheelhouse. I just like to do the thing — write the poem — much as I like live performance.”

He doesn’t watch videos of his musical performances and he doesn’t like to return to the poems he’s written, either. Instead, he considers the poems “part of my day.”

An early riser, Armenti describes his experience during quarantine as relatively unchanged from life before it, except he teaches remotely now, and “never gets stuck in traffic.”

Even so, he admits, “I have been forcibly retired from live performance for the most part, but I’m lucky that at this age — I’m 68 — I love where I live, and stare at the river behind my house. I make music and teach and write poems and songs, and there are 15 instruments on stands in my studio …”

He trails off. Before 8:30 a.m., he responds to email, completes chess moves, takes language lessons online — Spanish, Italian and Turkish — and writes a poem in response to Schneider’s daily painting.

“I think of her paintings as being of things that are overlooked,” Armenti conjectures. “I like to let a narrative emerge from them, for them to take me on an emotional journey.”

As to how he might look back upon the poems or this period of time, he muses, “It’s always hard to tell until after the fact.”

Writer’s note:

I invited myself to go see Katy Schneider’s paintings, having heard about them from another friend and neighbor. She said yes. The next day, I wrote a response to the visit. Here’s a short excerpt:

There’s a luminance to each object and a spell when they line up, illuminated by spotlights, along the white walls.

Here’s evidence of our tiny lives, remnants of the days when a box’s arrival on the front porch was the main event, or we had cake for someone’s birthday.

Here’s the boot unworn, the glob of toothpaste we didn’t clean yet. Here is a day and another, as expressed by a thing that was around.

We remain day by day, the actual virus quarantine nowhere near complete. We don’t know how the story ends. Maybe, eventually, we’ll realize these tiny squares of days, these uncertainties, fit within larger frame of days that add up to our lives by recognizing it’s all uncertain, it’s all by day or moment or image.

Sarah Buttenwieser




Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

Copyright © 2020 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy