Nancy Lawton

Nancy Lawton, <i>Self-Portrait with cameo</i>, 2004<br>Courtesy Hirschl & Adler Modern, New York City“Drawings in Sterling Silver,” at Hirsch & Adler Modern in New York City, showcased Nancy Lawton’s virtuosity with a medium more widely used during the Renaissance than today. Both Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht Dürer (in a famous Self-Portrait executed at age thirteen) made exquisite drawings in silverpoint, a technique that involves drawing on prepared, often gessoed and tinted paper, with a thin silver wire. Unlike graphite or charcoal, silverpoint will not smudge; it also requires a remarkably sure hand. Lawton began using the medium in 1985. Already an accomplished graphite artist, she quickly grasped the unique virtues of silverpoint but also saw the potential of combining it with graphite or even sparingly applied acrylic color.

The complex effects of her multimedia approach are particularly notable in some recent portraits. In Forrest Holding Lilies (2004), a tiny (4 ¾" x 3 ½") image of her son, she juxtaposes the refined rendering of the boy’s face and silky hair against bolder areas of black (his almost flat turtleneck) and white (the calla lilies). Touches of yellow add vitality. Lawton uses that pale butter-cream color again in Self-Portrait with Cameo (2004), in which her tightly cropped face stands out dramatically against a matte black background. Wisps of hair and delicate lines around the mouth and eyes are sensitively picked out in silverpoint, which also gives the eyes an otherworldly intensity. Lawton is adept at another genre, botanical drawing. Single Amaryllis and Double Tulip (both 2002) are pure argent line, lovingly observed specimens floating in a void; you can almost touch their cool freshness. More recently, she has been drawing against the butter-cream acrylic background and showing plants most illusionically, with a spatial dimension provided by cast shadows. Eucalyptus Leaves on Diagonal (2004) is a dynamic composition, with the curling leaves cropped at the lower edge. In Orchids and Shadows (2004) the blooms rise from a stem growing from the bottom edge; the eerie forms of the flower’s shadows rises to the top, anchoring the composition. The green and yellow of Maple Seed Pods (2003) give the bat-like plant, suspended upside down, a surprisingly ripe sense of color. Floating Leaf (2004), in contrast, fully exploits the complementary virtues of silverpoint and graphite. The mirror images of the lyrically curved and elegantly rumpled leaf allow for a bravura display of draftsmanship, as Lawton traces every vein. The leaf has the preternatural magic of a Rackham fairy. Silverpoint tarnishes over time, aging to the warm toast brown visible in old master drawings. It will be interesting to watch the natural evolution of Lawton’s exquisite drawings.  “Drawings in Sterling Silver” remains through March 12, 2005, at Hirschl & Adler Modern, 21 East 70th Street, New York, New York 10021. Telephone (212) 535–8810. On the web at

American Arts Quarterly, Spring 2005, Volume 22, Number 2