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Pivotal silverpoint exhibition at National Arts Club
Tom Mazzullo, “Upwrap", 2009, silverpoint on prepared paper, 12 x 9 inches.

NEW YORK, NY.- A pivotal exhibition of silverpoint works by 41 contemporary artists opened on December 4, 2013 at The National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park South, New York City, running through December 23, 2013. The exhibit focuses on the investigation by contemporary artists into the mystery of the old medium in creative and imaginative new ways. Lured by the magic of the medium, enticed into the search for the perfect surface and tempted into exploring the haunting qualities of silverpoint, contemporary artists are free from the limitations of materials that bound the old masters.

Silverpoint is an historic and demanding medium. Long before graphite was discovered for pencils and paper was readily available, artists drew with silver, gold, copper, tin and lead. Points of silver were the preferred medium. Silver’s subtle color grows more beautiful as it tarnishes with age.

Artists used thin lengths of silver held in a stylus. Though the implement might look like a pencil, silver and graphite are quite different. Silver marks become visible only on a specially prepared surface.

In the early fifteenth century Cennino Cennini, in the first “how to” book for artists, “Il Libro dell’Arte,” described a remarkable substance that was used to prepare silverpoint surfaces. The recipe called for a large quantity of chicken bones, which could be “fetched from under the table” and then burned until they became pure white ash, mixed with a small amount of colored pigment and moistened by saliva or (even better) by urine and finally spread carefully on parchment, wood or ivory.

The resulting surfaces were quite small and often fragile. Each work had to be very carefully considered and painstakingly executed; with the traditional materials, erasing was impossible.

Despite the difficulties involved, Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer and Raphael among others, created metalpoint masterpieces. Even after pencils and paper were commonplace and most artists had lost interest in this highly demanding medium, Rembrandt Van Rijn chose to use it to create his sensitive portrait of his wife, Saskia. Many later artists with styles as divergent as John Ruskin, Marcel Duchamp and Bruce Nauman have fallen under its spell.

The first silverpoint exhibition in the United States, took place in 1985. Its curator, Bruce Weber, then wrote, “In the hands of draftsmen of skill and vision silverpoint is a medium of possibility, awaiting still further investigation.” It took 21 more years before a museum exhibition showing the possibilities of silverpoint took place in 2006 at The Telfair Museum of Art, Savannah, Georgia and three more years before the one in the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science, in 2009.

Of note is that The National Gallery, Washington, D.C., in conjunction with The British Museum, England are planning a landmark metalpoint exhibit in the near future. It will focus largely on historic works and contain a limited number of images from the 1900’s to the present. The Silverpoint Exhibition at The National Arts Club, curated by Sherry Camhy, focuses on the rebirth of interest in the medium by contemporary artists and the beauty of works created with the luster of silver and other metals.

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