Text by Emily O’Leary, Associate Curator
On view from January 22 – May 14, 2017
Susan Schwalb: Metalpoint Paintings features 15 paintings executed in metalpoint and colored gesso by master metalpoint artist Susan Schwalb, who has been working in the centuries-old technique since 1973. She began experimenting with silverpoint after encountering the medium unexpectedly via an artist friend. Today, she is recognized as one of the most important living artists whose work exemplifies this technique in contemporary art.
Historically, the practice of silverpoint, the most common type of metalpoint, dates back to the Middle Ages. Artworks that use this technique are executed with a stylus that creates fine lines when applied to specially coated paper. Once a line is laid down, it cannot be erased or changed. Schwalb uses a variety of metals in her work, including copper, aluminum, gold, platinum, and tin. Working on a prepared surface of paper laid on wood panel, she draws painstakingly thin lines in different formations. Schwalb often coats the paper herself, creating a surface which becomes an important part of the work.
Schwalb’s initial foray into metalpoint began with figurative subjects, such as flowers and landscapes, but quickly shifted to more abstract works. She was particularly inspired in the late 1970s by tribal motifs (Weber, 233). Schwalb continued to experiment with how the compositional elements of metal, color, line, and light interact, and are capable of evoking a variety of ethereal, delicate effects.
Traditionally, metalpoint is a medium applied to paper. Beginning in the 15th century, silverpoint was most commonly used the same way that graphite would be later, since it rendered fine lines and gradations that few other materials could match at the time. Even in the 20th century, though, many artists who worked in silverpoint continued to produce primarily figurative art, albeit in a modernist idiom. Schwalb, on the other hand, pioneered inroads into the contemporary potential of metalpoint. In addition to turning to pure abstraction, she also incorporated materials not seen in traditional metalpoint, such as metals other than silver, along with brightly colored or black grounds.
In the three series included in the exhibition—Harmonizations (2015), Intermezzo (2015–2016), and Polyphony (2013–2016)—the exploration of luminosity evolves with each body of work. Subtle tonal shifts depend on the type of ground, along with the process of incising and layering the metals. As Schwalb stated in an interview, different metals also age in different ways. For example, silver and copper both tarnish, whereas gold and platinum do not.
Schwalb intentionally works in series, drawing inspiration from previous works to create new ones. For example, Harmonizations is a direct continuation of the spatial and compositional explorations that began in Polyphony, a series focusing on overlapping lines and shapes. Each piece in Harmonizations is executed on a square picture surface and comprised of 36 smaller squares, with a single one left blank. The series explores the idea of the void, or a space intentionally left open and unoccupied. Working in a square format has been paramount to Schwalb’s work since 1997.
The series derive their titles from musical terminology, affecting the same type of intangible space that music creates for a listener. The paintings are often meditative, much like Schwalb’s artistic process, allowing the viewer to become lost in the myriad of colors and tones found in each work. The nature of the void and of pure abstraction in Schwalb’s paintings invite the viewer to reflect and ponder the depths of luminosity.
About the Artist
Schwalb is considered one of the foremost figures in the contemporary practice of metalpoint. She was one of three living artists, and the only woman, to be included in the major 2015 exhibition Drawing in Silver and Gold: Leonardo to Jasper Johns which was mounted at the National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC), before traveling to The British Museum (London). Currently, two of her prints are on view in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition Drawings and Prints: Selections from The Met Collection in The Robert Wood Johnson, Jr. Gallery through January 30, 2017.
Schwalb was born in New York City and studied at the High School of Music & Art, and at Carnegie-Mellon University. She has been in residence at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (2010,’07, ‘92,’73), the MacDowell Colony (1989, ’75,’74), Yaddo (’81) and has had two residencies in Israel in 1994 at Mishkenot Sha’ananim, Jerusalem, and the Tel Aviv Artists’ Studios. She has had over 35 solo exhibitions and has exhibited nationally and internationally. Her work is represented in most major public collections, including The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC; The British Museum, London; the Brooklyn Museum, New York; Kupferstichkabinett—Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Germany; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; and The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, England. For more information about the artist, visit http://www.susanschwalb.com/
About Garvey|Simon, New York
Elizabeth K. Garvey is the co-founder and owner of Garvey|Simon, New York, a boutique gallery in Chelsea that is focused on drawing, works on paper, unusual materials, and design, while also acting as curator and advisor to select private clients.
Corona, Sarah. “Interview with Susan Schwalb.” WSImag.com. Wall Street International, 16 Jun. 2015. Web. 05 Jan. 2017.
Weber, Bruce. “Modern and Contemporary Drawing in Metalpoint.” In Drawing in Silver and Gold: Leonard to Jasper Johns. Exh. cat. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015.
Checklist of the Exhibition
All works courtesy Garvey|Simon, New York
Harmonizations I, 2015, goldpoint, silverpoint, green and yellow gesso on paper on panel, 24 x 24 x 2 inches
Harmonizations II, 2015, goldpoint, silverpoint, carmine and yellow gesso on paper on panel, 24 x 24 x 2 inches
Harmonizations III, 2015, goldpoint, silverpoint, Jaune Brillant and yellow gesso on paper on panel, 24 x 24 x 2 inches
Harmonizations IV, 2015, goldpoint, silverpoint, copperpoint, black and yellow gesso on paper on panel, 24 x 24 x 2 inches
Harmonizations V, 2015, goldpoint, silverpoint, platinumpoint, yellow gesso on paper on panel, 24 x 24 x 2 inches
Harmonizations VI, 2015, goldpoint, silverpoint, platinumpoint, grey and yellow gesso, aluminum wool pad on paper on panel, 24 x 24 x 2 inches
Intermezzo XXV, 2015, tinpoint, silverpoint, goldpoint, copperpoint, graphite, green gesso on panel, 16 x 16 x 2 ¼ inches
Intermezzo XXIII, 2015, silverpoint, copperpoint, aluminumpoint, brasspoint, black gesso on paper on panel, 16 x 16 x 1 ¾ inches
Intermezzo XXIV, 2015, silverpoint, goldpoint, tinpoint, graphite, carmine gesso on paper on panel, 16 x 16 x 1 ¾ inches
Intermezzo XXVII, 2016, silverpoint, goldpoint, graphite, aluminum wool pad and brass brush, yellow, carmine and black gesso on panel, 16 x 16 x 2 ¼ inches
Intermezzo XXVI (for Paris), 2016, silverpoint, tinpoint, goldpoint, aluminum wool pad, graphite, carmine, blue, and white gesso on panel, 16 x 16 x 2 ½ inches
Intermezzo IX, 2014, tinpoint, silverpoint, goldpoint, aluminum, graphite, copper wool pad and black gesso on panel, 16 x 16 x 2 ¼ inches
Intermezzo XXVIII, 2015, silverpoint, goldpoint, colored pencil, yellow gesso on paper on panel, 16 x 16 x 1 ¾ inches
Polyphony VI, 2013, silverpoint, goldpoint, copperpoint, blue gesso on paper on panel, 16 x 16 x 1 ½ inches
Polyphony XI, 2015, silverpoint, goldpoint, copperpoint, green gesso on panel, 16 x 16 x 1 ¾ inches
This text appeared in the brochure produced in conjunction with the exhibition Susan Schwalb: Metalpoint Paintings on view in the Elma and Milton A. Gilbert Pavilion Gallery from January 15–May 14, 2017, open to the public daily from 10:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
Special thanks to Sarah Corona for proposing this project and helping to facilitate the exhibition.
As a member of the American Alliance of Museums, Hebrew Home at Riverdale by RiverSpring Health is committed to publicly exhibiting its art collection throughout its 32-acre campus including the Derfner Judaica Museum and a sculpture garden overlooking the Hudson River and Palisades. The Derfner Judaica Museum + The Art Collection provides educational and cultural programming for residents of the Hebrew Home, their families, and the general public from throughout New York City, its surrounding suburbs, and visitors from elsewhere. RiverSpring Health is a nonprofit, non-sectarian geriatric organization serving more than 12,000 older adults in greater New York through its resources and community service programs. Museum hours: Sunday–Thursday, 10:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Art Collection and grounds open daily, 10:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Call 718.581.1596 for holiday hours and to schedule group tours, or for further information, visit our website at http://www.riverspringhealth.org/art
This exhibition is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.
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