Susan Schwalb

New York, New York, USA

“The ideal geometry of the rectangular or square,” Ms. Joanne Stuhr has written in the essay for my show at Gráficas Gallery, Tucson, AZ, “is purged of all metaphor and covered with all-over, continuous patterning imparting neutral surfaces with the non-hierarchical equality of the entire grid: the absence of subject and ground…. The viewer is confronted with immediate visual impact, and allowed to experience the work of art directly.”

I have been working within a square format almost exclusively since 1997. An even grid of narrow horizontal bands of tone, usually of the same width, forms the basic structure of my paintings. But unlike the work of Agnes Martin, with whom I am often compared, this geometric regularity serves as a spatial context for irregular events on the surface. In some works, I have sanded layers of paint to reveal additional lines between the bands; these lines are always horizontal to reflect the basic structure. At times the whole surface is sanded to create a “distressed” effect that counterpoints with the geometric regularity. And in a few works, carefully calibrated color changes cause the width of the bands to seem variable.

The grid is rendered by the classical Renaissance technique of silverpoint. Most of the contemporary artists who draw with a metal stylus continue the tradition of Leonardo and Dürer by using the soft, delicate line for figurative imagery. By contrast, my work is abstract, and drawing and painting are fused. I apply layers of paint, often using several colors, after which I draw with pieces of metal. Then I erase part of the surface with sandpaper to expose the paint. Often I add additional paint and drawing to intensify the layered effect. Light seems to emerge from somewhere in the interior of the panels, and the images with their shimmering surfaces seem to float on the wall.

In the end, metaphor seems to reappear. It is hard to avoid a landscape reference in some of the paintings. A horizontal line that divides a canvas is easily read as a horizon, and the luminosity that emerges from the interaction of metalpoint with paint inevitably evokes sky, clouds, wind, hail, flood and sunlight.


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