Libraries & Spaces
Revealing the Light: Mezzotint Engravings at Georgetown University
Drawn from the holdings of Lauinger Library’s Special Collections Research Center, this exhibition focuses on the uncommon and technically demanding art form of mezzotint print making, first introduced in Holland in 1640. Mezzotint’s unique tonal qualities (the word derives from the Italian mezzotinto, or half tint), ideally suited to capture painterly effects, enabled the reproduction and distribution of popular paintings and portraits in the centuries prior to photography. Mezzotints are characterized by a rich, velvety surface with blended tones of light and dark, without the delineating lines found in etching and other intaglio techniques.
Before the artist can create an image, the entire surface of a metal plate is covered with a multitude of pin-sized pits using a hand-held tool called a rocker. The rocker’s curved and serrated cutting edge, composed of anywhere from 30 to as many as 100 teeth per inch, is evenly rocked back and forth over the plate for several hours in a methodical pattern by holding the tool almost perpendicular to the plate and exerting pressure. As the tool rocks its way over the plate, its small teeth indent the copper surface and throw up a tiny burr of metal that enables the plate to hold ink. If the print were pulled at this point the result would be a rich, velvety black throughout. Several mezzotint tools are displayed in the exhibition including roulette wheels, which were used to prepare the surface of the plate in the earliest mezzotints before the invention of the rocker in 1657.
To create the image, a tool called a burnisher is rubbed over the plate to smooth desired areas of the pitted surface, where light will be revealed when the print is pulled. In this method the artist works from dark to light, and the deeper he cuts into the plate, sometimes using a pointed scraper, the lighter that area will be when printed. Color mezzotints, introduced in the 18th century, require a separate plate for each color and a final key plate to print the black ground.
Ironically, the wide success of mezzotint as a reproductive medium ultimately led to its demise, as aquatint and other painterly etching techniques became more popular for the creation of tone in printmaking. With the development of photography and mass reproductive techniques in the 19th century, the laborious and time-consuming mezzotint process fell out of favor. In the last century, however, it enjoyed a resurgence of interest among the more venturesome and talented fine print makers, who successfully took the process on to newer heights in the production of original works of art. This exhibition highlights several contemporary masters, including Frederick Mershimer, whom we celebrate here with his newly published catalogue raisonné. Georgetown is honored to have the largest institutional collection of Mr. Mershimer’s work, with 27 outstanding impressions.
Denis Diderot’s multi-volume compilation of writings on philosophy, literature, science, mathematics and the arts known as the Encyclopédie was one of the crowning achievements of the French Enlightenment. This volume contains nine plates in a section entitled Arts et Méchanique illustrating the tools and techniques of the various engraving processes, including this plate on mezzotint, known in French as “la manière noire,” or “black manner.” The diagram in the lower left delineates the various lines over which the rocking tool must pass in order to thoroughly and evenly cover the surface of the metal plate with the fine pits that will hold the ink to create the black background. The image will then be carved out of the rocked plate with a burnisher or a scraper, also shown on this page. The sphere in the lower right corner is an impression from a finished mezzotint plate.
The earliest mezzotint in this exhibition exemplifies the traditional 18th century portrait format, copied from a painting by one T. Adams, about whom very little is known. The subject, Sir William Johnson, was born in Ireland and immigrated to America around 1736 to oversee his uncle’s lands along the Mohawk River in New York. The twelve tenant families he brought with him, and his shrewd trading with the neighboring Mohawk Iroquois enabled Johnson to build a small empire encompassing several thousand acres in the area of present day Amsterdam, New York. Through a relationship with the sister of the prominent Mohawk leader Joseph Brant, he had eight children and became an influential advocate on behalf of the Mohawks and the confederacy known as the Six Nations (Iroquois) in their dealings with the colonial government. During the Seven Years’ War beginning in 1755, Johnson led an expedition of provincial and Native American troops against the French, and was victorious in the battle of Lake George.
This mezzotint by Charles Spooner, showing Johnson in his officer’s uniform, was published in London in 1756 to commemorate his appointment as superintendent of Indian affairs for the northern department. Though faded and frayed with age, this historic engraving has an important provenance connected to Georgetown. A paper label on the reverse explains that it once hung in the Riggs mansion at 1617 I Street, N.W. Mrs. George Washington Riggs was a daughter of Thomas Shedden of Glasgow, Scotland, and a distant relative of Sir William Johnson. Her son, E. Francis Riggs (1851 – 1910), gave the funds to build Riggs Library in the Healy building, completed in 1891 in commemoration of his father and deceased brother, T. Lawarson Riggs, who had once attended Georgetown.
John Martin was a prolific painter of the Romantic sublime as well as a skilled mezzotint engraver. He excelled at interpreting epic stories from the Bible, literature or legend into elaborate figural compositions, juxtaposing areas of calm with turbulent natural forces, pitting helpless humanity against the dramatic forces of nature. His early historical paintings included Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion (1812), Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still upon Gibbeon (1817), and Belshazzar’s Feast (1821). The latter, exhibited to wide acclaim at the British Institution, was from a series of historic and biblical landscapes such as Babylon, Nineveh and Pompeii, as well as other-worldly disasters such as the Deluge (1826).
In an effort at reaching a wider audience and securing a more profitable income, Martin embarked on a career as a printmaker in the mid-1820s which established his reputation abroad. In 1827 he produced a two-volume illustrated set of Milton’s Paradise Lost published by Septimus Prowett, which included 24 mezzotint plates. Martin was among the first engravers to employ the new technology of the soft steel printing plate, which was harder than copper and therefore could allow for a much larger printed edition.
Capitalizing on the success of his illustrated Milton, Martin’s most ambitious undertaking was a self-published series of mezzotints on the Bible, which he originally planned as a series of 40 illustrations of both the Old and New Testaments. Unfortunately the Bible images, which were issued to subscribers sporadically in pairs, each with a sheet of corresponding text, were not a commercial success, and none of the New Testament subjects were ever issued. In 1838 Martin sold all of his plates and proofs for the Bible to publisher Charles Tilt for £500, who re-issued the series and re-worked some of the plates, adding etched lines to further delineate some of the figures, as we see in the two Tilt editions exhibited here.
The Deluge story from Genesis fascinated Martin, who made two paintings and two mezzotints of it. The earlier Deluge, painted prior to his Bible mezzotints, was so popular he released a mezzotint edition in 1828. A printed brochure accompaniment revealed his sources in science, scripture and literature (Lord Byron’s poem Heaven and Earth, 1824). Martin was influenced by his contemporary the French naturalist Georges Cuvier in his belief that the Biblical Flood was caused by a disastrous confluence of the sun, the moon and a comet. He painted a second version of The Deluge in 1834, which won a gold medal at the Paris Salon.
The close working relationship of British landscape painter John Constable and his younger colleague David Lucas is documented through their surviving correspondence, hundreds of annotated working proofs, and the many mezzotint impressions of Constable’s views made by Lucas, first published in five parts between 1830 and 1832. Lucas had recently completed his apprenticeship with the engraver S.W. Reynolds, and had begun issuing his own mezzotints in London when he came to the attention of Constable, who was seeking assistance with a proposed publication of his pastoral landscapes. These were no doubt inspired by the success of J.M.W. Turner’s ambitious mezzotinted landscape publication known as the Liber Studiorum (1807 – 1819).
Born and raised on a farm in Northamptonshire, Lucas was also a talented landscape draftsman. With his combined skills in landscapes and engraving, he was ideally suited to carry out Constable’s plan. Together they produced a bound volume of the Various Subjects of Landscape, Characteristic of English Scenery in 1833, but the project was a financial loss, and a planned appendix with additional plates was never realized by the time of Constable’s death in 1837. Lucas continued working on the plates intended for the appendix, as well as executing plates of several Constable sketches and compositions never previously reproduced. Subsequent editions, produced after Constable’s death when his artistic reputation had risen, did prove lucrative for its publishers. As described in the volume displayed here, published in 1855 by Henry G. Bohn, 22 of the 40 plates were from Constable’s original publication; an additional 5 were for the planned appendix, and the remaining 33 were engraved by Lucas after the artist’s death, “and are now for the first time offered to the lovers of Art.”
Pictured here is Patrick Brydone (1736 – 1818), Scottish traveler, author, and member of the Royal Society. Brydone wrote a highly popular travelogue entitled A Tour Through Sicily and Malta (1773) which was published in at least nine editions during his lifetime, and was also translated into French and German.
Benjamin Franklin inspired in the young Brydone a lifelong interest in electricity, and his writings on the subject earned his election to the Royal Society in 1772-73. Brydone’s observations in his Tour about the depth of soil and lava on Mount Etna generated scientific controversy, as his findings suggested a far greater age to the earth than was then commonly accepted. In doing so Brydone was one of the first people to begin questioning the 1664 assertion of James Ussher precisely dating the age of the earth from the moment of creation, which he had set at 4004 B.C.
This mezzotint has been trimmed from the full-length print shown here in reproduction, after the oil painting by Andrew Geddes (now presumed lost). Published just days before Brydone’s death, the original print shows its subject reclining on a couch set in front of his electrical experiment apparatus and a map of his travels. William Ward, the engraver who produced this portrait print, was appointed engraver to the duke of York, the Prince of Wales, and associate engraver to the Royal Academy.
This highly detailed mezzotint, a technical tour de force from the British Pre-Raphaelite era, depicts a frightened-looking Ophelia. Around her wrist are the herbs she was picking by the water’s edge prior to the plunge that ended her life. Her ermine-trimmed gown, suggestive of rich silk brocade, indicates her elevated status as a Danish noblewoman. The character of Ophelia—her victimization by Hamlet and her subsequent decline into madness—was a popular theme of Pre-Raphaelite artists, whose subjects were frequently drawn from the Bible, the plays of Shakespeare or British Romantic poetry.
The author of this image, Charles Campbell, lived only to the age of 32, perhaps accounting for the notable dearth of published information about him. He worked in the studio of his father, a London architect, and studied at the Ruskin School of Fine Art and Drawing in Oxford. Campbell evidently was encouraged by the preeminent painter Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1833 – 1898), and made mezzotint copies of some of his paintings. It is not known whether Campbell made an initial painting of Ophelia from which this mezzotint was derived, or whether it is an independently conceived work.
Kalman Kubinyi was born and raised in Cleveland’s Hungarian community. He took art classes as a child and graduated from the Cleveland School of Art in 1926. Following studies in Munich, Germany, where he made his first etchings and engravings, Kubinyi started exhibiting throughout the United States in the 1930s and taught at both the Cleveland School of Art and the Cleveland Museum of Art. He also founded the Cleveland Printmakers in 1930 and supervised the graphic arts division of the Works Progress Administration from 1935 – 1939.
The title Saraband is derived from an upbeat dance which originated in colonized Latin America in the early 1500s and spread to Spain. It was eventually banned in Spain because of its “obscenity” (it was an upbeat and intimate couples’ dance), but gradually spread to Italy and France where it evolved into a slower, courtly dance and also became a movement in classical Baroque music. One can see that Kubinyi managed to create harmony between the banned and courtly versions of the dance: the colors and curves within the print tame the provocative positioning of the bodies and the jarring white lines in the background.
These mezzotints lampooning the litigious world of lawyers and judges by award-winning illustrator Lynd Ward were published along with eight other images satirizing other professions in a special edition of Erasmus’s Moriae Encomium, or, The Praise of Folly in 1943. During his youth Ward’s moral outlook was shaped by his father, a Methodist minister sympathetic to social causes. Ward received his Master of Fine Arts degree from Columbia University’s Teacher’s College in 1926 and married his future collaborator and fellow graduate May McNeer the same year. While honeymooning in Europe they settled in Leipzig where Ward enrolled in the National Academy of Graphic Arts, studying the techniques of printmaking and book design.
Ward’s reputation became established with his series of wordless novels, the earliest form of the graphic novel published in the United States. The first to appear on the scene in 1929 was his wood engraved Gods’ Man, succeeded by five others in the genre the decade following. During this time Ward founded Equinox Press and was named director of the graphic arts division of the Federal Writers Project in New York City from 1937-39. The publication of a multi-volume edition of Les Misérables in 1938 inaugurated a series of classics Ward produced for George Macy’s Limited Editions Club, including Erasmus’s Praise of Folly. All ten mezzotint plates for The Praise of Folly, as well as their accompanying proofs, are in the Library’s Special Collections Research Center.
A native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Reynold Weidenaar created over 200 prints throughout his career. His sensitivity and skill in rendering smoky, atmospheric effects through the technique of mezzotint contributed to the revival of interest in the medium in America. Important awards in the 1940s from the Guggenheim and the Louis Comfort Tiffany foundations enabled Weidenaar to travel. He spent considerable time in Mexico, where he created some of his most important works.
The striking and richly atmospheric Demolition in the Plaza del Toro, from that period, shows the aftermath of a volcanic eruption in the village of San Juan Parangaricutiro. In 1943, a new volcano suddenly began growing out of a fissure in a nearby cornfield. The volcano, which eventually reached a height of 424 meters, erupted on and off for the next eight years before dying. Lava and ash from the eruptions eventually completely covered the village; today, the top of the cathedral can still be seen emerging through the cooled lava flows.
In August 1905, the British Astronomical Association mounted an expedition to observe and study a total solar eclipse. Some traveled to Labrador and joined a Canadian Prime Minister’s expedition for the same purpose; most went to Burgos, Spain; some—Frederic Dawtrey Drewitt among them—chose to board a ship and see the eclipse from the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Spain near Torreblanca.
Those on board the S.S. Arcadia were ideally situated, since they were on the eclipse’s “central line” and would be able to observe the totality for the longest time span possible. Being on a ship, however, isn’t the best way to make accurate scientific observations and measurements, and another member of the party commented, “The dilettante astronomer would find the experience most enjoyable. From a scientific point of view I am afraid I must regard the trip as a wasted opportunity.”
Given the state of photographic technology in 1905, it is no surprise that artistic representations of the eclipse are far more detailed than records made by cameras. Drewitt drew the corona and its rays in accordance with several other artists’ published depictions, including those in the official reports of the British Astronomical Association. Unique to this image, though, is Drewitt’s exquisite and subtle rendering of the cloudy sky, which grudgingly and briefly cleared for the Arcadia’s passengers as the moon fully covered the sun.
The artist dedicated this print to his colleague and fellow printmaker J. R.G. Exley. Other copies of Sun’s Corona are in the archives of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Joseph Pennell was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by Quaker parents who encouraged his artistic leanings from a young age. In 1876 he briefly clerked for the Philadelphia and Reading Coal Company while attending evening classes at the Pennsylvania School of Industrial Art, two experiences that influenced his lifelong interest in industrial subjects. In 1880 he produced his first etching, and a year later received his first magazine commissions from Harper’s and Scribner’s. In 1885 he moved with his young bride Elizabeth Robbins to Europe, where he remained for the next 32 years. At the beginning of World War I, Pennell traveled in Europe with the intention of illustrating the industrial nature of the war. However, the emotional strain was too great and he returned with his wife to the United States, settling permanently in Brooklyn, New York in 1917.
Through the many volumes he published on printmaking, Pennell played a prominent role in the revival of interest in the graphic arts in America. A prolific and experimental printmaker, Pennell produced over 900 intaglio prints and over 600 lithographs during his lifetime. In his book Etchers and Etchings (1919), Pennell called mezzotint “the most fascinating and maddening method of making a print that ever was invented.” His Shot Tower and the Bridge, a wartime view of London, was included in the volume as an example of “drawn mezzotint.” In this preferred, simplified method, the image was “drawn” on the plate with the dots of a roulette wheel, instead of the traditional and laborious method of rocking the plate prior to burnishing the image out with a scraper.
On the encouragement of art critic John Ruskin, Sir Frank Short made many mezzotints after the paintings of Turner and other painters. It is his original compositions however, often featuring scenes of water, which count among the high points of British printmaking. Lifting Cloud was made after a watercolor sketched by the artist on the solid bedrock beach of Whitby Scaur in Yorkshire.
Short was a president of Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers from 1910 – 1938.
This sentimental image of a young girl illuminated by the glow of her candle was copied from a painting (now unlocated) by the award-winning history and genre painter Henry Mosler (1841 – 1920). The German-born artist grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, was employed as a Civil War sketch artist for Harper’s Weekly, and later studied art in Düsseldorf and Paris, where he resided from 1877 – 1894. Georgetown owns three large paintings by Mosler, on view in the Old North Building: The Birth of the Flag, Washington Crossing the Delaware, and The Victory of the Bonhomme Richard, all published in the Mentor magazine in 1913.
A generation younger than Mosler, mezzotint master Samuel Arlent Edwards established a successful practice of selling copies of popular Old Master paintings via subscription through his publishers in New York and London. Edwards claimed to have revived the 18th century method of printing in color from one mezzotint plate. This involved inking the plate by hand for each printing, which created slightly different results with each impression. Edwards was justifiably proud of his meticulous workmanship and routinely penciled in the following statement just above his signature: “Engraved and printed in color at one printing without retouching.”
Scip Barnhart is a master printmaker residing in Washington, D.C. who has taught traditional print techniques at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, George Washington University, and is now on the faculty at Georgetown. For over twenty years, Barnhart produced editioned prints for established artists such as Bill Christenberry, David Chung, Georgia Deal, P. Buckley Moss and Kevin MacDonald at the District workshop he maintained known as the Union Printmakers Atelier.
For this exhibition, Barnhart graciously loaned his mezzotint tools and this portrait of his son, Ryan, his only endeavor in the medium of mezzotint from the mid-1980s. The genesis of the print is described in Barnhart’s statement below:
I was teaching intaglio [printmaking] to beginning students. I wanted them to experience etching, aquatint, drypoint, soft ground, lift ground, engraving and mezzotint. I had examples of my own work of each of these techniques—except mezzotint. We would get to mezzotint and I would give the lecture and demo my teachers had given me. I would explain how difficult it would be to execute the rocking and burnishing [of the mezzotint plate]. It felt awkward giving that advice, since I hadn’t actually made a mezzotint. I decided I would. I really didn’t think it would be as difficult for me since I supposedly knew what I was doing as far as printmaking was concerned. But it was difficult, and the rocking and burnishing gave me a new and greater appreciation for mezzotint. I loved the process and the range of tonalities achieved, but this image, until this year 2008, is my only mezzotint.
Painter and printmaker Jack Levine grew up on the South side of Boston and began his training at the Boston Museum of Fine Art. He has had a successful and prolific career painting contemporary-themed subjects often in satirical or humorous overtones, with titles evoking the works of Old Master painters. In his twenties Levine worked as an artist for the Federal Works Progress Administration, and his first major success came with the Museum of Modern Art’s acquisition of his 1937 painting The Feast of Pure Reason. After serving in the Second World War, Levine traveled to Europe on a Guggenheim fellowship. His politically charged paintings of the 1950s were exhibited in New York at the Whitney and the Modern, and it wasn’t until the early 1960s that Levine became involved with printmaking, perhaps through his friendship with print publisher Abe Lublin of the New York Graphic Society.
His Self-Portrait with Muse mezzotint, based on a 1960 painting, is an irreverent approach to a traditional subject—the artist’s self-portrait within his studio. It portrays the classical muse of inspiration hovering incongruously over the artist’s disproportionately large head. The arduous rocking of the zinc plate for this print was accomplished by Emiliano Sorini, a talented Italian printmaker who had a nearby studio, and whom Levine credits with teaching and guiding him through the process of intaglio printmaking.
Each example of a color mezzotint will be slightly different from others in the edition, because the colors are applied by hand to a single plate each time a print is run. Tomoe Yokoi is highly regarded internationally for her expert use of this difficult medium.
Yokoi combines traditional Japanese attention to the beauty of natural form with the advanced expertise of Parisian technique: her early art training at Tokyo’s Biunka-Gakuin College of Art was followed by study in Paris at S. W. Hayter’s famous Atelier 17, the most prestigious school of intaglio printmaking.
In Confluence, tactile immediacy meets an eternal essence: crisp edges define and balance softer forms in a composition that evokes warmth and volume, while distilling shapes to their most elemental forms.
Placed within the modern tradition of Geometric Abstraction and incorporating a wide range of individual approaches, Michael Lasuchin’s work expresses a distinct universal poetry, or what the artist refers to as an “encoded visual diary,” that evolves out of the depth of his life experiences and communicates with those on spiritual journeys. Rather than defining his work within a single artistic tradition, however, Lasuchin claims he is “searching for the elusive solutions to a given problem.”
Konstantin Chmutin’s dramatic chiaroscuro technique recalls the lighting effects used by Rembrandt—a particular influence on the artist—and makes the most of mezzotint’s unique ability to portray light and dark with strength, richness and depth. The thoughtfulness with which the everyday objects are rendered transforms this still life from the mundane to the meditative.
Kazuo Yamaguchi explores the idea that the artist’s innermost self is revealed in the everyday objects surrounding him. He writes that his greatest sense of accomplishment comes from giving “peace of mind and pleasure” to the viewer (from http://www.millionart.com).
Sharon Augusta Mitchell regularly moves between natural studies and the pursuit of narrative images that convey a sense of theater and emphasize the drama and enigma inherent in natural forms. In recent years she has worked largely in print media using traditional techniques such as mezzotint, etching and stone lithography, and occasionally combining them in conjunction with elements of other mixed media approaches. She writes:
Having come to relish the patterns that occur so abundantly in the wild, as well as those which are unique to the creations of mankind, the temptation to juxtapose them in a composition is irresistible. Within the proportional confines of a sheet of paper, the fractal shapes and structures of nature can be set like jewels into the Euclidian geometry of architecture or the swirling decorative motifs of an art nouveau backdrop. Even while embracing a tendency towards dark humor, I strive in this way to make the work viewable. That some of the pieces are humorous and others decorative is purposeful in so far as it offers me a change of mood—without which I would certainly stagnate or take up bowling.
Herman Zaage’s lifelong artistic career covered the full spectrum of printmaking. His professional work began just post-World War II in the Army, silk-screening informational materials; he then spent 39 years as a photo engraver and dot etcher with a printing firm in Manhattan. After his retirement in 1983, Zaage began to learn the techniques of fine art printmaking and took up etching, woodcut, and mezzotint.
The Print Club of Albany commissioned an edition of 160 prints of Puuhonua as its 1999 annual presentation print. Zaage, a longtime supporter of environmental preservation groups in his home area, wrote in the prospectus for the print: “Puuhonua, Hawaiian for ‘Place of Refuge,’ is a site on the Big Island that my wife and I visited during a short vacation stay in the Hawaiian Islands. Much of my work employs the imagery of sub-tropical flora and at this site the grouping of these tangled Mangrove like stems caught my eye as a potential mezzotint.”
Craig McPherson is known for his murals, paintings and mezzotints, many reflecting his 30-year residence in New York City. His work has been exhibited in solo gallery shows in New York, where he is represented by Forum Gallery, and in group shows throughout the world. His body of work includes a number of corporate and museum commissions, including a set of large murals depicting world harbor cities for the American Express Building.
This floral still life represents a departure for McPherson from his larger body of work, both in tone and subject matter. The colorful tulips are presented in a bright clear light, drawing attention away from the artist’s self-portrait reflected in the convex form of the vase.
Craig McPherson works in the urban-realist tradition, producing finely detailed, beautifully atmospheric renderings of urban and industrial environments. His preference for urban subject matter and unpopulated shadowy night scenes is reminiscent of both the Ashcan School of the early twentieth century and the cinematography of mid-twentieth-century film noir.
The artist here gives Fort Tryon Park in New York City a far lighter touch. The delicate coloring calls to mind nineteenth-century hand-tinted photographs rather than the stark graphic quality of black-and-white movies. Dappled light and shade impart a dreamy quality, with a definite flavor of nostalgia that fully excludes the bleak or the industrial.
A modern master of the technically demanding art of mezzotint engraving, Frederick Mershimer received his undergraduate degree in Fine Arts from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University in 1980, with a major in painting. He moved to New York in 1982 and studied at Parsons School of Design, the Pratt Graphics Center, and the Manhattan Graphics Center, further developing his talents in fine printmaking. As a participant in a program at Pratt Graphics, Mershimer was able to spend six weeks in an intensive printmaking workshop at the Studio Camitzer in Valdottava, Italy.
Always interested in the problems of rendering light, naturalism and illusion, Mershimer has chosen New York architecture as the dominant theme for many of his prints. Inspired by the city’s landmarks and its other structures of historic significance, his images are characterized by the qualities of light and space.
Georgetown is honored to have the largest institutional collection of Mershimer’s works, with a total of 26 prints. Displayed here is the artist’s recently released catalogue raisonné that records 95 superbly crafted mezzotint engravings from the years 1984 to 2006. Published by Stone + Press Gallery of New Orleans, this deluxe edition of the catalogue, of which there are 100, includes the small print Into the Night. The quintessential view of a New York subway entrance is located at 23rd Street and Broadway near the Flatiron Building.
The city scenes of Art Werger adopt the visual vocabulary of cinema to create scenes fraught with tension and isolation. Film noir techniques of perspective and point of view place the viewer as an omniscient voyeur, in the middle of the action yet not a participant.
The aerial orientation in The World Below presents the urban environment almost as abstraction. The grand scale precludes any participation of the viewer in whatever events might be occurring; perspective comes at the price of belonging.
A different kind of detachment is portrayed in Separate Destinations. The busy street seems desolate; each car and figure is solitary in the rain. The viewer is part of the scene but alone in the crowd as the cars’ blank headlights echo the disconnection of the passers-by.
New York artist Peter Jogo captures the silence and stillness often found in urban landscapes. With masterful use of the subtlety only possible with mezzotint, played against strong silhouettes and deep shadows, the artist develops evocative nocturnal settings. The soft, ethereal quality of black and white provides a foundation on which the artist builds his multi-plate color mezzotints, allowing for a particular richness, depth and texture, and creating inviting spaces for pause and reflection.
As explained in Carol Wax’s seminal work The Mezzotint: History and Technique (1990), this color mezzotint was printed from two separate plates: first, the color matrix, a zinc plate on which some of the image elements were engraved with a burin and etched with aquatint, was printed twice, each time with a different color scheme. Next, the copper key plate containing the mezzotinted image—burnished and scraped through a ground prepared with a 100-gauge rocker—was printed with blue-black ink on Arches Cover white paper.
Robert Kipniss was born into a family that valued the visual arts: his father was a painter and layout director who designed the pages of the Sears, Roebuck Catalogue, and his mother was a fashion artist. He began his career as a painter with a Master of Fine Arts degree from Iowa University in 1954, and in 1967 he switched to printmaking.
Disenchanted after 23 years of almost exclusively working in lithography, Kipniss decided to try making a mezzotint engraving and was enthralled with the results. “In mezzotint you draw with light. You start with velvety black and gradually introduce degrees of illumination and, as your focus sharpens, you slowly evolve shapes and space from the darkness. I found the possibilities so felicitous, so beckoning, as to make this old artist youthfully eager about printmaking again….”
Charles Ritchie came to Washington, D.C. after completing his Master of Fine Arts degree at Carnegie Mellon University in 1980, and now works as Associate Curator of Modern Prints and Drawings at the National Gallery of Art. For over a decade, Ritchie has been exploring the sites in and around his suburban Virginia home. He is dedicated to the landscape, “both visible and metaphorical.” The rich effects of the mezzotint technique create shadowy depths from which an eerie glow emerges in this view of the artist’s house. The image was featured on the cover of the Summer 2002 issue of The Washington Print Club Quarterly. As Terry Parmelee wrote of it at the time, “Simplification of form, exaggeration of light or shadow, and subtle adjustment of shape contribute to a unique style that defies the description of ‘realism.’”