“Vibration V” refers to an effect:
In my wood panels I began by carving thin lines into the surface after which I applied several layers of paint or gesso. Then, after lightly sanding the surface, enriched the surface with bronze tones and metalpoint drawing. The works seem to vibrate as the eye moves around the painting.
“Vibration V” (1998), acrylic and metalpoint on paper on wood, 30” x 30” x 2,” by Susan Schwalb, presumably “seem[s] to vibrate” as does “Toccata 1” (2010), silverpoint, acrylic on wood, 30” x 30”—
In Toccata… a large yellow surface with contrasting pink highlights is covered with carved lines and metalpoint drawing so that it seems to vibrate as the eye moves around the painting.
At the RISD Museum is Richard Anuszkiewicz’s “Primary Hue” (1964), a painting that also seems to vibrate. Vibration is an apparent effect even with a reproduction of “Primary Hue”; vibration is not apparent with a reproduction of “Vibration V”—or with any of Schwalb’s work. Neither are her works subtle tonal shifts: “Vibration V” becomes strata only.
Schwalb’s focus is her materials. Whenever she is interviewed, she teaches the materials. This is metalpoint, this is the ground. Although music flavors her work (thus, “Toccata 1”), music does not inform her work. Her idea is to make lines (mostly horizontal lines) within the constraints of metalpoint.
Twelve years of work from “Vibration V” to “Toccata 1,” horizontal lines etched with metal into a variety of grounds brushed onto 30” x 30” wood panels (in an interview promoting her 2013 show Spatial Polyphonies: New Metalpoint Drawings, she’s asked about the wood panels. “So, do you have these made or do you do them yourself?” Schwalb lowers her voice and replies, “No. I have them made. I have a wonderful person who does this for me.” The she doesn’t make the panels contrasts with her approach to prepping the surface she etches— “Most of the artists who work in metalpoint today use commercially prepared paper. Coating the paper takes a long time, but it is an important part of my creative process.” Making the panels or not; making the ground or not—choices about what’s important enough to take time).
Time! Decades spent etching horizontal lines with a wide metal band into sanded coats of gesso. “An even grid of narrow horizontal lines forms the basic structure of my drawings and paintings.” “…groups of horizontal bands are carefully (but intuitively) measured.” “…[A]lways searching for a finer and finer line.”
A.R. Ammon’s register tape fed into a typewriter but instead of verse, hyphens only.
Or, had Mark Rothko not committed suicide.