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Exploring Susan Schwalb's forty years of metalpoint drawings at the Arkansas Arts Center
Susan Schwalb, American (New York, New York, 1944 - ), Convergence I, 2017, 24 x 24 x 2 in., goldpoint, black gesso on paper on panel, courtesy of Garvey | Simon, New York.


LITTLE ROCK, ARK.- A new exhibition at the Arkansas Arts Center traces the history and career of one of America’s foremost metalpoint artists. A Luminous Line: Forty Years of Metalpoint Drawings by Susan Schwalb opens February 2 and will remain on view through April 29, 2018.

The 35-work exhibition surveys Schwalb’s career, beginning in 1977. Dubbed “the pied-piper of silverpoint,” Schwalb has helped to spark a revival of interest in metalpoint by both artists and scholars. Throughout her career, Schwalb has transferred these traditional Renaissance media to the realm of abstraction, while retaining their beauty and serenity.

Metalpoint drawings are made using with a metal stylus on paper prepared with a slightly abrasive ground. Silver is the most popular metal, tarnishing to an attractive warm color on the paper. In her work, Schwalb uses a variety of metals – silver, bronze, copper and more – and a variety of drawing tools, including wires and flat pieces of metal. Schwalb also uses graphite, gouache and gold leaf throughout her work.

Metalpoint has a long and storied history. The 2015 exhibition Drawing in Silver and Gold, mounted by the National Gallery of Art and the British Museum, surveyed use of the medium, beginning with Renaissance artists like Albrecht Dürer and Leonardo da Vinci and ended with works by Schwalb.

“My new drawings use the classical Renaissance technique of metalpoint in a way which challenges all the traditional concepts,” Schwalb said. “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 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 husband, composer Martin Boykan.

“Seeing Susan Schwalb’s luscious abstract metalpoint drawings will make any viewer admire the medium and any artist want to try it,” said Ann Prentice Wagner, Arkansas Arts Center Curator of Drawings. “But she doesn’t just draw – she reaches out to encourage others in creating and collecting. She enriches our collection and our lives.”

Metalpoint – and Schwalb’s work – have a long history at the Arkansas Arts Center. The Arkansas Arts Center Collection features one of the leading collections of modern and contemporary metalpoint works in the world. Schwalb was featured in the Arkansas Arts Center’s National Drawing Invitational in 2004, and her works have been entering the collection and appearing on the walls of the museum since 1984.

A Luminous Line: Forty Years of Metalpoint Drawings by Susan Schwalb was organized by the Arkansas Arts Center in partnership with Garvey|Simon, New York.





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