Susan Schwalb
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Recent Paintings
Paintings 20092016
Paintings 1997–2008
Drawings 1997–2015
Artist Books

Metalpoint 1974–95
Sculpture 1977–96
Susan Schwalb in the studio

My primary medium for over 40 years has been the Renaissance technique of silverpoint and metalpoint drawing. The works on paper juxtapose a wide variety of metals (silver, gold, brass, copper, platinum, pewter, bronze, and aluminum) to obtain soft shifts in tone and color reminiscent of the transparency of watercolor. Horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines 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. My work is abstract, and my handling of the medium has become increasingly bold.

Often a shimmering luminosity creates what appears to be a 3-dimensional undulating surface. I have been working within a square format almost exclusively since 1997. An even grid of narrow horizontal or diagonal lines forms the basic structure and serves as a spatial context for irregular events on the surface.

By contrast, the paintings focus on color and the silverpoint drawing becomes more of an element of structure; in these works on wood panels, drawing and painting are fused. I have applied several layers of paint, using different colors, after which I drew with the metalpoint. Then I erased part of the surface with sandpaper to expose the paint underneath. Often, I add additional paint and drawing to intensify the layered effect. The paintings seem to float on the wall, and an illumination begins to emerge from somewhere in the interior, at times creating an aura of reflected light, at times appearing to evoke memories or afterimages.

Many of my drawings have musical titles, which evolved intuitively. It is not only because I live with a composer and love music, but also because there is a parallel in the fact that music is abstract like my work. My paintings and drawings are always done in series and each work is generally inspired by the piece or pieces created before it. Numerous drawings and paintings used the title of Polyphony, and my new series, entitled Harmonizations, is a simplified version of those works. Harmonizations is made up of 36 squares with one left blank as a metaphor for a new presence or for a mourning of a loss.

Diagonal lines divide the picture plane in the series entitled Intermezzo as many different metalpoints are combined with metallic wool pads and graphite; some of these works have a three-dimensional quality as surface events are continued on the sides of the panel.

All the series are a testimony of how the abstract and straight line can create movement and a visual sound, simply through a variety of compositions. What I want the viewer to do when standing in front of my work is to notice all the subtle differences on the surface and to experience the effect of an abstract universe composed of lines and reflections of light.