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Engravings in Mezzotinto

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The black print is an indirect printing method, also known as mezzotinto, which was invented in the 17th century, and was at its peak in the 18th century. It is done on a copper plate, that has been prepared on all its surface with different tools. The printed result shows a large range of colour values, from white over various shades of grey, to jet black. The final result will be like a sharp black/white photograph. 

In the first stage a special instrument, named "berceau", is used. By balancing this tool differently it produces small dots of different sizes that are engraved on the all the surface of the metal. If the plate is printed in this first stage, the result would appear in a velvety jet black colour. At a later stage, the grey and white parts are produced in a similar way. Being all mechanic, without the use of chemicals, this simple technique is also highly ecological.  

The black print gives the engraver conditions that are much similar to those of the designer using his pencil, and both the engraving and the sketching will produce extremely fine results. 

The fundamental difference between the two techniques is that the engraver starts his work in the dark, and works his way to the lighter shades, whereas the designer starts his work on white paper, and gradually works his way to the darkest shades. 

With "La Ronde Sauvage" Pierre Albuisson clarifies and affirms the symbolic dimension of his works: the immaculate, aristocratic lace handkerchief holds the black-berry, the fruit of the poor and the vagrant, which by its trace of bluish-black tint reminds one of its importance to alchemy. 

From this omnipresent light contrasts are duly born:  an image of living matter born of nature and inanimate material, embroidered by human hand which gives it life, and which gives them both an unforfeitable immortality. 

  • Pierre Albuisson: Mezzotinto engraving of an embroidered handkerchief containing black-berries. Scan © Pierre Albuisson. 

Pierre Albuisson: "La Ronde Sauvage".

Albuisson tells, that 

when I was 17 years old, I was working on the extraordinary, the phantom-like delusions. My point of departure was automated writing, mental images, nature, and I found the equivalent of nature. I closed the first circle. Then I realized a fantastic work coming from a natural source, that could pass into the imaginary world. I closed the second circle. 

I liked Roger Caillois and his extraordinary rationale, and his mental base in generalized poetics; the same postulations, the same steps that organize the inert matter, the hardness of science, the source of dreams. 

I read his books and said to myself that I must meet this guy. He expresses in literature what I am searching for in my designs. Albuisson set out to arrange a meeting with Roger Caillois, where he got to know his universal spirit familiar with zoology and folk tales inspired by Montesquieu and the phantom literature. This first meeting was the beginning of a great friendship between the two men, and Caillois simply adored my black prints, telling that they had "that inexplicable spirit" that enlightens the darkness of the night. 

Pierre Albuisson: "Roger Caillois". Pierre Albuisson: "Le Fulgore" -- Hommage à Roger Caillois.
  • Pierre Albuisson: Engraved black print of Roger Caillois (1913-1978). Scan © Pierre Albuisson. 

  • Pierre Albuisson: "Will-o'-the-wisp. Homage to Roger Caillois". This work was awarded the prestigious Rank Xerox Prize for engraving in black print. Scan © Pierre Albuisson. 

Roger Caillois wrote in "Le Monde" the 28th November 1975: 

Picasso, the Liquidator
Since Picasso broke with the "Art of Painting", this never came back to normal. The predecessors of Picasso were happy to reproduce nature, rectifying or forcing it to suit their needs. They accentuated any character, but kept the resemblance. 

Picasso refused angrily to paint anything that nature was unable to produce. (...) He separates body and face in a way that they obviously cannot respond to the slightest necessity, or even a minor organic balance. 

(Extract from an article by Roger Caillois).

Pierre Albuisson wrote:
Most of the trends in contemporary art are more connected with psychiatric disorders than art, and are most often nothing more than artistic fumbles. . 

Pierre Albuisson:  Portrait of Roger Caillois.

Mezzotinto engravings may be found as illustrations to a large number of books from the 19th century, notably the works of Edgar Allan Poe. 

Pierre Albuisson: "The Old Dead Tree".

The work shown on the left is an engraving by burin. Engraving on copper plate sized 44,5 * 69,5 cm, printed on paper Arches 56,5 * 76,5 cm. 

This showpiece reunites the fantastic collection of engraved works, and "L'enraciné" -- the old dead tree engraved for a rebirth -- represents the stunning coming together of black and white which transcends the image. 

The dynamics of the work surpass the symbolism of the figurative motif of the tree -- it reaches up to this light that has been present since the first fantastic works and discovers its continuity in the tree.

One perceives the transition of the fictitious world of the imaginative to that of the figurative design which in Pierre Albuisson's own words can be described as "natural trans-realism". 

  • Pierre Albuisson: Traditional burin engraving of the "Old Dead Tree".  Scan © Pierre Albuisson. 

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Published June 2005. Revised 08-feb-2007
Copyright © Ann Mette Heindorff & Pierre Albuisson 
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