This exhibition surveys the career of an artist who is crucial in reviving and redefining the ancient media of silverpoint and drawing with other metals. Schwalb has taken these traditional Renaissance media into the realm of abstraction, while retaining their beauty and serenity.
Metalpoint drawings are made by drawing with a metal stylus on paper that is prepared with a slightly abrasive ground. Silver is the most popular metal; it tarnishes to an attractive warm color. Susan Schwalb says, “I use flat pieces of metals in addition to silver wire in a stylus . . . My new drawings use the classical Renaissance technique of metalpoint in a way which challenges all the traditional concepts. Juxtaposing a wide variety of metals (silver, gold, brass, copper, platinum, pewter, bronze and aluminum) I obtain soft shifts in tone and color reminiscent of the luminous transparency of watercolor. Horizontal bands evoke an atmosphere of serenity, and the shimmer of light on the surface, created by the metals, is quite unlike any of the usual effects of metalpoint.
Schwalb’s beautiful art works, as well as her workshops and social media activity, have earned her the title, “the pied-piper of silverpoint.” She has helped to spark a revival of interest in metalpoint by both artists and scholars. The 2015 exhibition Drawing in Silver and Gold, mounted by the National Gallery of Art and the British Museum, began with Renaissance artists like Albrecht Dürer and Leonardo da Vinci and ended with Susan Schwalb.
Schwalb is best known for abstract drawings like Strata XXXIX (1999). Her silverpoint works began in the 1970s with elegant renditions of flowers like Orchid Study (1977). Later, she began to include burns in such abstract works as Headdress #2 (1979), intertwining graceful traces of smoke with silverpoint lines. Intervals XI (1994), is one of many works from the 1990s to include gleaming gold leaf and brilliant color, recalling medieval manuscript illuminations. Currently, Schwalb is experimenting with colored grounds. Polyphony #8 (2013) is on a rich red ground, while Convergence I (2017) is in goldpoint on black. Many of the artist’s images call upon the inherent abstraction of music. Nocturne, a scroll Schwalb made in 2001, complements music by her composer-husband, Martin Boykan.
Susan Schwalb and metalpoint have a long history at the Arkansas Arts Center. Schwalb was featured in the National Drawing Invitational in 2004. Her works have been entering the collection and appearing on the walls of the museum since 1984.
Arkansas Arts Center, 501 E 9th St, Little Rock, AR 72202
Phone: (501) 372-4000