“When Big Trees Fall” by Peter Herley, Nikki Millonzi and Judy Schneider, on view beginning March 1 at Cafe Nomad in Norway. Photos courtesy of the artists

Some friends finish each other’s sentences. These three finish each other’s art.

Throughout the month of March, Peter Herley, Nikki Millonzi and Judy Schneider – all friends and neighbors from Norway – will exhibit paintings they made collaboratively while working safely apart, alone in their studios. They will show the work in the Community Gallery at Café Nomad in Norway.

Each artist began by starting a painting on a 12-by-12 panel, then shared the incomplete work with another artist, who added to it for a few weeks, then passed it on again. They exchanged art back and forth until they settled on a dozen finished pieces.

“It Is Only with the Heart,” a piece made collectively by Peter Herley, Nikki Millonzi and Judy Schneider.

The art-making process and resulting exhibition, which they have titled “We Three,” were not intended to combat the isolation of the pandemic, but that is precisely what happened, Millonzi said. “At first, I thought it came out of nowhere, but now I see it probably was a response to the need to create connections when connections had dried up. The spark was lit by a need to create dialogue with other artists and friends,” she said.

There were no rules, other than there had to be “some bit” of each artist in each finished piece, Herley said. And they all had to agree each piece was done.

“There was no apprehension,” he said. “I wasn’t worried about interpreting. I was just trying to to add to what they were doing, to enhance.”

Schneider called the process “liberating” because it didn’t involve ego. “I could just use Peter’s color palette, which are colors I would never think of using.” But it wasn’t ever easy. “You have to be polite. You are working on someone else’s process. You don’t want to insult them or make changes,” she said. “To be able to have that conversation and try to find how I fit into their processes was really interesting.”

“Hungarian Wolves”

All three have all shown their artwork together, and in combinations of two. But their styles and approaches are different, in technique and aesthetic. Schneider identifies as a landscape artist. Herley’s work tends to be more political. Millonzi sometimes takes a spiritual approach.

Looking at the dozen paintings in “We Three,” the body of work together feels cohesive, as if all the art was made by a single entity. In a sense, it was – a collective mind of three. “There was no ownership. They are all everybody’s,” Millonzi said.

At the time Millonzi began the project, she joined a writing group and “started humbly writing.” She incorporated some of her written lines into the visual artwork, scratching words into the texture and adding blocks of texts. In honor of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she wrote, “When big trees fall.” When Schneider got the piece, she added elements that evoked trees. Things hidden in layers in early versions came to the surface as the art made the rounds.

The artists will hang photos of the pieces in process, next to the finished work, so people can see how each artist added to and sometimes substracted from what came before.

“Day and Night”

Millonzi said the project has forced her to think about some of her core art philosophies. “It has made me ask myself, ‘Why do I create art?’ I like it, it’s fun. I love colors and shapes and forms and how they go together, but another reason I do it is because making art shows me aspects of myself that I don’t usually see, or can’t see,” she said. “In thinking about this process, it is helping me see some things. I am learning about myself through this process.”

Schneider sees a lot of hope in this project and in the idea of friends helping each other for the greater good. The trio showed their own work together in the spring, during the early months of the pandemic, and much of it was dark. The new work is brighter.

“I hope this brings people joy,” she said.

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