Susan Schwalb: Redefining Traditions

Metalpoint, Drawings and Painting, 2013

My drawings use the classical Renaissance technique of metalpoint in ways which challenge 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 lines and tone 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.

Toccata #75, 2013, 14x14in
copper and aluminum wool pad on clay coated paper

Madrigal #47, 2014. 12x12in,
silverpoint, copper/aluminum/brass wool pads,
grey gesso on paper

I have been working within a square format almost exclusively since 1997. An even grid of narrow horizontal lines forms the basic structure of my drawings and paintings. But unlike the work of Agnes Martin, with whom I am often compared, this geometric regularity serves as a spatial context for irregular events on the surface.

 Tone and line are the most important features of these works. In my wood panels I began by carving thin lines into the surface after which I applied several layers of paint or gesso. Then, after lightly sanding the surface, I enriched the surface with bronze tones and metalpoint drawing. The works seem to vibrate as the eye moves around the painting.

Many of the drawings, particularly those entitled Madrigal, create a counterpoint between fine lines drawn with a stylus and broad swatches of bronze or copper tone. Those entitled Toccata have a stronger linear presence, and on occasion I have actually used fine pencil lines as a dark black contrast to the metalpoint.

There is considerable variety in these works. A ground of black gesso alters the tones and colors of the metals in the drawings entitled Aurora. A particular variant of the linear texture characterizes the three-dimensional drawings entitled Toccata or Intermezzo, where lines wrap around the edges of the panels. And finally, the panels and drawings entitled Polyphony feature multiple square units, often arranged in layers so that an illusion of depth, in sharp contrast to my other works, frequently seems to emerge.



Polyphony II, 2013, 24x24x2in
aluminum/gold/copperpoint, black gesso on panel

Polyphony II (additional view) 


    Polyphony XII, 2015, 16x16x1.75in,
    silver/gold.copperpoint, carmine gesso on panel

Intermezzo #17, 2015, 12x12in
silver/goldpoint, aluminum wool pads
graphite on terra skin paper

About the Artist
Susan Schwalb was born in New York City and studied at the High School of M&A, and at Carnegie-Mellon University. Her current work juxtaposes a wide variety of metals (silver, gold, brass, copper, platinum, pewter, bronze and aluminum) to obtain soft shifts in tone and color. 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, The Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Kupferstichkabinett - Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Germany. She has had over 35 solo exhibitions and has exhibited nationally and internationally.

In 2015 the historical metalpoint exhibition entitled, “Drawing with Silver and Gold: From Leonardo to Jasper Johns”, will open at the National Gallery of Art, Wash. DC and then travel to The British Museum, London. Schwalb will be one of a very few living artists included in the show.

See more of Susan Schalb's work at