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. 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, Schwalb 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 back contract to the metalpoint. Her current drawings juxtapose a wide variety of metals (silver, gold, brass, copper, platinum, pewter, bronze and aluminum) to obtain shifts in tone and color. Horizontal bands create a soft shimmer of light which evoke an atmosphere of serenity.
Schwalb’s oeuvre ranges from drawings on paper to artist books and paintings on wood panels. The panels are carefully beveled so that the imagery seems to float away from the wall.
Schwalb was born in New York City and studied at the High School of Music & Art, and at Carnegie-Mellon University. Her work is represented in many of the world’s major public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, NY; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; The National Gallery, Washington DC; The British Museum, London; The Brooklyn Museum, NY; The Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA; Kupferstichkabinett - Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Germany; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, England; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; 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, Providence, RI; The National September 11 Memorial and Museum, New York, NY; and The Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
Susan 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 at Mishkenot Sha’ananim, Jerusalem and the Tel Aviv Artists’ Studios. Her work has been shown in over 35 solo exhibitions in galleries and museums throughout the world. Schwalb was one of three living artists included the 2015 metalpoint exhibition, Drawing with Silver and Gold: From Leonardo to Jasper Johns at The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC and The British Museum, London. In 2018 a retrospective entitled A Luminous Line: Forty Years of Metalpoint Drawing by Susan Schwalb opened at the Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock.