NEW CANAAN, CONN.- Heather Gaudio Fine Art
is presenting Susan Schwalb: Convergence/Variations, her first solo exhibition at the gallery. The show features a selection of paintings from different series created in the past two decades. The exhibition will run through June 25th, 2022.
Schwalb is one of the leading specialists of silverpoint, a drawing technique that peaked during the Renaissance era in Italy and the Flemish regions. Well-known Old Masters practicing the medium included Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt van Rijn and Albrecht Dürer, among others. Its popularity waned as other drawing materials emerged, such as red chalk and graphite, only to be revived in the latter decades of the 19th Century. Today the technique continues to be employed by artists in the United States and Europe and Schwalb is arguably its largest champion. Her almost five-decade experience with silver and other metalpoints (gold, copper, platinum, brass, bronze, pewter and aluminum) is unparalleled. The artist not only pushes the boundaries by expanding the use to other metals, she also utilizes differently-sized styluses, metallic wool pads and flat metal bars to create her marks. Her explorations extend to the grounds on her supports, from paper to panels which have been painted or coated and sanded down to a smooth perfection.
With the exception of a few notable names, such as Jasper Johns and Bruce Nauman, silverpoint is not immediately associated with contemporary art. When used, it mostly depicts the figurative or representational. Over time, Schwalb has developed a formal vocabulary that sets her work apart with its pure abstraction. Her geometric vernacular – bands of lines across the surface, grids or networks of vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines combine a classical methodology and have become her signature motifs. It is important to note that silverpoint is an unforgiving medium in that it requires a steady, decisive hand and leaves no margin for error. Once a mark is made it cannot be changed or undone. Knowing this can only add to the wonderment when viewing the exactitude of her finely spaced and precise marks on the surface.
Schwalb has worked exclusively in the square format since 1997, further accentuating her contemporary expression. Her paintings are created on beveled wood panels that have been carefully prepared and sanded into grounds of jewel toned colors. The stylus markings render structure to the works, and she can often add more paint to intensify the layered tonality of color. Working in series also allows her to explore all sorts of possible combinations of linear marks and variations in color.
The works in the exhibition were executed in the last two decades and stem from different series. Schwalb’s passion for music is reflected in the titles, which came about intuitively: Intermezzo, Polyphony, Harmonizations, and the like. For Schwalb, music is parallel to the interpretation of abstraction. (She was also married to the late composer Martin Boykan, Professor Emeritus of Music at Brandeis University.) Each series is a variety of set compositions informed by the previous one. The Polyphony works are layers of squares on top of squares created with lines in varying thickness to give the illusion of depth and they “vibrate” to evoke a sense of movement. The more recent Harmonizations have become more complex compositions resulting in grids made up of 36 squares on each panel. Each square is filled with fine and disciplined lines moving in different directions. Schwalb intentionally leaves one of the squares blank, and always in a different area in the grid, as a metaphor for a loss or something in transition.
The grounds of deep blues, reds, or purples, when combined with the different metalpoints, generate a variety of new color schemes and add complexity to the composition. At times, the use of wool pads render the bands of lines an atmospheric, ethereal glow. These works shimmer and the lines can disappear or be amplified under a certain light. For Schwalb, abstraction through the line creates movement and rhythm, the medium giving an added quality of light reflection to the work. These are highly refined and finished works, the strokes applied with precision on the surface, with varying spacing. They require an intimate engagement, the close inspection revealing the artist’s skill at fine mark making.
Schwalb is known in artistic circles for generously sharing her knowledge and expertise through lectures and workshops, encouraging other artists to delve into the medium as alternative means of expression. She is the co-author of “Silverpoint and Metalpoint Drawing: A Complete Guide to the Medium”, published in 2019. Her work has been the subject of many solo and group exhibitions in the United States and abroad, and is included in numerous notable public and private collections including the The Metropolitan Museum, New York; MOMA, New York; The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Yale University Art Gallery; the British Museum, London; Kupferstichkabinett – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Germany; and the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel, among others.