In the world of art, Simon Schneiderman has developed a rare niche.
While other visual creators are painting landscapes, still life or abstracts, his subject matter is far more unconventional: lawyers and courtrooms.
And as a practising Toronto trial lawyer since 1980, Schneiderman has no shortage of material. His paintings, which are accompanied by text – often humorous, slice-of-life vignettes – are based on his personal observations.
The subject matter covers everything from lawyers dealing with stage fright when appearing in front of a judge to work-home realities for female lawyers, and even lawyers’ fashion conundrums.(“It’s hard to look cool and dress for court,” one youthful, gown-attired lawyer muses in one artwork.)
In another painting, a lawyer expresses confusion and disappointment with the outcome of a trial that doesn’t go as planned. “I thought I won. The judge was nodding all through my arguments,” he bemoans.
“Nodding off,” a colleague offers.
Schneiderman describes his perspective as sardonic. “I hope it’s amusing. It’s litigation and if you don’t have an opportunity to be ironic about it, it can become too much to digest.”
For someone who enjoys figurative work, as Schneiderman does, lawyers have turned out to be an ideal subject. “One thing about lawyers interacting is you get a lot of gesture because they’re arguing, they’re negotiating, they’re doing something that’s going to be theatrically expressive, and that lent itself to the kind of stuff I was interested in,” he explains.
“They’re using their hands, their bodies, they’re engaging with each other,” he adds. “And equally interesting for me, it all has a narrative quality….It invites an interpretation based on a storyline. What are they doing, what are they talking about.”
Schneiderman has been making art almost as long as he’s been practising law – about 38 years. Before that, he drafted comedy sketches and sitcom scripts for CBC, wrote and produced radio and TV commercials, and at one point, even ran a children’s theatre in London, England.
But when he developed writer’s block, he thought he might overcome it by turning his attention to another creative pursuit: visual art. He had little knowledge in the field, so he read a few books, signed up for art classes and then began to take it seriously.
“You have to learn how to draw, so I started carrying a sketchbook with me all the time, including in court, and when there was down time, I’d sketch.” Schneiderman says the drawings “are variants of what I heard, based on events that occurred.”
Schneiderman has since shown his work in more than two dozen exhibitions, including the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition, the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre in Toronto and, most recently, the Artist Project in Toronto in February, where prints of his lawyer-themed art were selling for $200.
Who’s buying his art? “Often lawyers and judges,” he says, “but also lawyers’ parents, children, someone who’s had a legal experience.”
His wife, Louise Lipman, a publisher who also acts as his curator, has played no small role in his success. “She saw the sketchbook and asked me to turn it into something more sophisticated. And I didn’t want to bother, and she said, ‘Do it anyway,’ and I did and people started buying them.”
When women asked Lipman why more female lawyers weren’t represented, she encouraged her partner to incorporate them into his work. “They have their own experience,” Schneiderman admits. One painting that arose as a result features a female lawyer commiserating to a female colleague, “I just made partner, now I’m going home to make dinner.” Lipman also singled out a few sketches that she thought should be turned into paintings, and those ended up among the biggest sellers.
Another popular piece features a courtroom scene in which a judge leans over to a lawyer and says, “I’m waiting.”
“I’m thinking,” responds the lawyer.
“That seems to be apocryphal in terms of the experience most lawyers have,” says Schneiderman.
Not all the art is law-themed. Other works, which Schneiderman calls narrative paintings, deal with relationships and themes such as love, loss, isolation and opportunities – missed and not.
As for the future direction of his art, Schneiderman says, “I’m going to keep doing more of it, maybe a different scale, larger. I’m thinking of turning some of them into animated pieces.”