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Susan Schwalb is one of the foremost figures in the revival of the ancient technique of silverpoint drawing in America. She was born in New York City and studied at the High School of M&A, and at Carnegie-Mellon University. Schwalb has been in residence at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (2010,’07, ‘92,’73), the MacDowell Colony (1989, ’75,’74), Yaddo, 1981 and has had two residencies in Israel in 1994 at Mishkenot Sha’ananim, Jerusalem and the Tel Aviv Artists’ Studios. She has had over 50 solo exhibitions and has exhibited nationally and internationally.
Schwalb’s oeuvre ranges from drawings on paper to artist books and paintings on canvas or wood panels; many of these panels are carefully beveled so that the imagery seems to float off the wall. Her work is represented in most of the major public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the National Gallery, Washington DC, The British Museum, London, The Brooklyn Museum, NY, Kupferstichkabinett – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Germany, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, England.
Her current drawings juxtapose a wide variety of metals (silver, gold, brass, copper, platinum, pewter, bronze and aluminum) to obtain soft shifts in tone and color. 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.
Most of the contemporary artists who draw with a metal stylus continue the tradition of Leonardo and Dürer by using the soft, delicate line for figurative imagery. By contrast,Schwalb’s work is resolutely abstract, and her handling of the technique is extremely innovative.
Paper is torn and burned to provide an emotionally free and dramatic contrast to the precise linearity of silverpoint. In other works, silverpoint is combined with flat expanses of acrylic paint or gold leaf. Sometimes, subtle shifts of tone and color emerge from the juxtaposition of a wide variety of metals. From 1997–2008 Schwalb abandoned the stylus altogether in favor of wide metal bands that achieve a shimmering atmosphere reminiscent of the luminous transparency of watercolor. In recent works, she creates a counterpoint between fine lines drawn with a stylus and broad swatches of bronze or copper tones. Those entitled “Toccata” have a stronger linear presence, and on occasion she has actually used fine pencil lines as a dark black contract to the metalpoint.
In addition to her life as an artist she has also curated exhibitions, most recently, “Reinventing Silverpoint: An Ancient Technique for the 21st Century”, 2009 at the Kentler International Drawing Space, Brooklyn and Connecticut College. Schwalb has written book reviews and features for such publications as Art New England, Artscope, adobeairstream.com and Berkshirefinearts.com.
In 2015 her work was included in “Drawing with Silver and Gold: From Leonardo to Jasper Johns”, at the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC which travel to The British Museum, London. Schwalb was one of only three living artists included in the show. In 2018 a retrospective entitled “A Luminous Line: Forty Years of Metalpoint Drawing by Susan Schwalb” was exhibited at the Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock. She is the co-author of “Silverpoint and Metalpoint: A Complete Guide to the Medium” published in 2019 by Routledge/Focal
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