Leather box with 50 mixed metalpoint drawings on clay coated paper. Drawings 3.5 x 3.5 inches, Box 4.5 x 4.25 x 1.75 inches, Unique. $4,500
Variable edition scroll book with mixed metalpoint on clay coated paper inside a fabric covered box. A music CD is included. Scroll is 12.5 x 72 inches, box is 14 x 6 x 2.25 inches closed. Number 8 from an edition of 10. $1500
Nocturne is the third artist book collaboration between Susan Schwalb, visual artist, and Martin Boykan, composer. It is designed in a scroll format reminiscent of Oriental art; music for a Renaissance instrument (the viola da gamba) is notated beneath a drawing executed in a Renaissance technique called metalpoint.
In this technique a mark is made when a piece of metal passes across a prepared surface, and a thin deposit remains embedded. Silver was the most common metal in the Renaissance, but all metals such as gold, copper, brass and aluminum are possible.
Metalpoint was already used in the ancient world as a writing tool for keeping records. In the early Middle Ages scribes and illuminators used it for spacing guides. It reached its zenith with Renaissance artists such as DaVinci, Dürer, Botticelli and Bellini, at a time when drawing flowered as an important art form. The medium fell out of fashion at the end of the 15th century as paper became more widely available and artists switched to red chalk and graphite, although some artists (including Rembrandt) continued the technique into the 17th century. The last revival before the 20th century was in England as part of the intensive Pre-Raphaelite study of the Renaissance.
Nocturne uses metalpoint in a way which challenges all the traditional concepts. Juxtaposing a wide variety of metals (silver, gold, brass, copper, and aluminum) Schwalb obtains 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.
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 in 1944 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.
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., and The British Museum, London; The Brooklyn Museum, NY; The Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University; 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; Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, AK; Wesleyan University, Davison Art Center, Middletown, CT; and the Weatherspoon Art Gallery, University of North Carolina at Greensboro.