Susan Schwalb is one of the foremost figures in the revival of the ancient technique of silverpoint drawing in America. Most of the contemporary artists who draw with a metal stylus continue the tradition of Leonardo and Durer 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. In recent works, Schwalb abandons the stylus altogether in favor of wide metal bands that achieve a shimmering atmosphere reminiscent of the luminous transparency of watercolor.
Schwalb was born in New York City and studied at the High School of M&A, and at Carnegie-Mellon University. Memories of light have been a recurrent source for her work; travels to Arizona and New Mexico, for example, suggested some of the colors and shapes in paintings called “Mesa”, and other works clearly owe something to the light on the Hudson River as viewed from a studio on the West Side of Manhattan.
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 National Gallery, Wash. D.C., The British Museum, London, The Brooklyn Museum, NY, The Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Kupferstichkabinett – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Germany, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX, The Achenbach Foundation of Graphic Arts, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, The Library of Congress, Washington, DC, The Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT, Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art and the Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, AK.
Image courtesy of James Arzente