10 Metalpoint Artists Redefine a Traditional Technique in Contemporary Terms

In the Middle Ages, scribes used metalpoint to create illuminated manuscripts, and during the Renaissance, old masters like Albrecht Dürer and Rembrandt sketched preliminary drafts for paintings on metal plates. “Metalpoint Now!,” on view at Garvey | Simon Art Access in New York, features 10 contemporary artists who still use metalpoint—a technique that involves drawing on surfaces coated with paint, gesso, or clay with a metal stylus—to achieve a wide range of visual effects.

In Celestial Tree (2014), artist duo Suzanne Scherer and Pavel Ouporov inscribe a tree on a wood panel tondo, adding gold leaf and Swarovski crystals as textural embellishments. Because gold leaf does not adhere to surfaces without applied moisture, Scherer and Ouporov’s process involves breathing heavily onto the material—an action they describe as giving the “breath of life” to their work.  For Lush Life (2015) Robyn Ellenbogen also worked in tondo, creating a confluence of swirls from metal coins, spoons, jewelry, and a stylus. Ellenbogen’s unique process emphasizes gestural movement and tactility and recalls the work of Louise Bourgeois, who the artist assisted in the 1970s.

Susan Schwalb and Marietta Hoferer focus on articulating linear details in metal. Schwalb draws horizontal lines onto prepared surfaces, making striking pieces that evoke striated landscapes and staves of sheet music. As art critic Lilly Wei noted in a catalog for Schwalb’s 2006 show at Winfisky Gallery in Salem, MA, Schwalb’s visual “vocabulary is restricted,” recalling Agnes Martin’s paintings. Hoferer’s monochromatic tape mosaics feature a similarly restrained use of color and rigorous, Martin-esque line compositions.

Cynthia Lin and Michael Nichols’s works feature abstract, organic shapes that sometimes suggest representative forms. Lin compares her silverpoint on gesso-coated works to “diagrams of invisible magnetic forces or microscopic crystal structures.” Citing spilt pepper and wisps of thread as reference points, the artist draws patterns that can be interpreted broadly. Nichols’s silverpoint works are ghostly portraits rendered in muted colors and blurry details. The subjects are clearly people, but their identities are unspecified—left to the viewer’s imagination.

Tom Mazzullo provides further insight into metalpoint by describing his artistic process: “Drawing is more than copying or preparing for a bigger artwork, it is a manifestation of the mental picture of a subject, as individual as a thumbprint, a single image as complex and crafted as any work of art.” In effect, these artists redefine metalpoint on their own uniquely contemporary terms.


—Anna Furman


Metalpoint Now!” is on view at Garvey | Simon Art Access in New York, NY from Jun. 11–Jul. 11, 2015.


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