New York

George Schneeman

"Home Plate," 309 East Fifth Street

The small East Village storefront George Schneeman filled with his fresco paintings, ceramics, and homemade furniture perfectly suited the intimate domesticity that marks all his work. A small room crowded with his pieces seemed like an informal homecoming of civilized cousins. The storefront’s location in the parish of St. Marks-in-the-Bowery reinforced Schneeman’s close connection to a part of literary New York, namely its poets. Aside from the quotations, ranging in their sources from Dante to T.S. Eliot, that are painted around the rims of some of his large ceramic platters (with appropriate, illustrative imagery), Schneeman’s work has a close affinity with New York School poetry in that, like such poets as John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, and the late Frank O’Hara, he finds his muse quite at home on lower Second Avenue. The writers’ unassuming Euterpe serves Schneeman well; like theirs, his work camouflages its insistence on accuracy with a modest demeanor.

For all their familiarity, Schneeman’s images are far from mundane. There is celebration, a celebration of being comfortable and among understanding friends, in both the things he chooses to draw and how he chooses to draw them. Schneeman’s “style” is all about extempore sketching: the pots and other clay and ceramic pieces technically only lend themselves to one attempt at applying imagery, while the frescoes demand a kind of additive drawing and color application that once done cannot be redone. So it is that Schneeman’s population of amorous male and female figures, mostly nude, tumble about from one surface to the next in an extended mealtime bacchanal. The drawings’ moody tentativeness and deliberate lack of finesse is of a piece with the venerable tradition of the arts and crafts movement, or, perhaps more particularly and more aptly, with the light, decorative touches of such English artists as Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant—the visual-arts Bloomsberries. Like them, Schneeman gladly underscores the utilitarian aspects of his work—here, for example, were numerous homemade furnishings such as a mirror, tables, a desk, and various cabinets incorporating ceramic tiles. These latter are decorated with images appropriate to the use of the larger object—a night table sports the loving couples, for example, while a spice cabinet shows tiles of hands holding sprigs of the floral and herbal sources of its contents.

The frescoes are somewhat more traditionally fine art, less consciously utilitarian. A number of them feature Tuscan landscapes Schneeman reinvented from memory of a long Italian residence in the late ’50s and early ’60s. My own favorites were two frescoed tondi that hung on either side of the small archway leading from the showroom to the work space. One showed a wire hanger supporting a pair of old-fashioned hose, the other a centralized icon of lacy pink underwear. Sheer delights.

Richard Armstrong