On various visits to New York I had gotten to know Susan and her work with metal point but was unjustly skeptical about the limitations as a contemporary medium. A historical exhibition on silverpoint was in the planning at the British Museum when Susan proposed an exhibition with a contemporary take on the medium. “Drawing with Metal” turned out to be one of the most interesting group shows and displayed an unimaginable diversity. Susan’s dense and delicate line compositions, mysteriously moving between light and shade make her the undisputed master to bring this sublime historical technique into the 21st century.
Susan Schwalb is one of the foremost figures in the revival of the ancient technique of silver – and more generally, metal point drawing, while challenging the traditional, mostly figurative conception. The American artist takes the medium to new levels and translates it into a contemporary aesthetic.
Schwalb’s minimalist abstract compositions of narrow horizontal or diagonal lines and geometric patterns are elegant and subtle and evoke an atmosphere of serenity. The peculiarities of the diverse metals Schwalb is using – among them silver, gold, brass, copper, platinum, pewter, bronze and aluminum – allow for soft shifts of tone and color and cause ephemeral qualities and a shimmering luminosity, which is unlike any of the usual effects in line drawing. The artist additionally explores the nuances of the different metals by carefully preparing the paper in saturated colours of pigmented gesso such as black, red, yellow, blue or green. Schwalb then takes advantage of the paper’s haptic quality to accentuate the complex interplay of the many gradations of line and colour. The works on black and white ground are meditative and quiet, often possessing more tonal hues, whilst in the works focusing on color, the metal point compositions develop more patterned structures where drawing and painting elements become fused.
Schwalb’s paintings and drawings are generally done in series and each work is often inspired by the pieces created previously. Most series have titles such as Aurora, referring to a landscape at sunrise with wide bands of drawn horizontal metal strips alluding to the emergence of light in the morning. Others bear musical titles like Polyphony, Toccata and Madrigal as the artist sees parallels in the tonal structure and metaphysical qualities that music conveys.
Susan Schwalb's work has been exhibited internationally in museum and gallery exhibitions since the 1970s. Her work is in the permanent collection of numerous museums and institutions including The Museum of Modern Art, NY, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, The Brooklyn Museum of Art, NY, The Museum of Prints and Drawings, Berlin, The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The British Museum, London, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock and the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington DC.
Exhibitions at the gallery:
Convergence, 2019 (group show with Caroline Kryzecki)
Drawing with Metal, 2015 (group show with Lucie Beppler, David Connearn, Benjamin Cottam, Marietta Hoferer, Károly Keserü, Sam Messenger, Dillwyn Smith, Damian Taylor and Erika Winstone)