"…in the tension between light and dark is the power of the universe."
—Peter Matthieseen, The Snow Leopard
…and, I would add, without the darkness of night, we would not see the stars.
I first discovered the sensuous blacks and subtle grays of the Mezzotint when I was in my early twenties. At the time, there were few people practicing this archaic engraving technique, which was invented in the 17th century, but was nearly lost with the advent of photography.
Mezzotint is a form of engraving, whose subtle qualities are achieved with tone rather than line. The artist spends many hours “rocking” a copper plate until the plate has thousands of tiny holes, each with a bit of raised burr that hold a tremendous amount of ink. A fully rocked plate prints a lush, velvety black, unparalleled in any other medium. To obtain an image, the artist scrapes the surface of the plate, variously lowering the levels of the burrs so they will hold less ink and thereby yield gradations of dark and light. Gradually an image emerges out of the darkness. The plate is inked by hand and printed on an etching press.
This extraordinarily time consuming process, while laborious to some, is meditative and highly satisfying to me. Using only the pressure of my hand on the scraping tool, I can imbue simple still life objects - drapery, tools, a shell - with a reserved strength and beauty that I obtain in no other medium. Light and shadow have the power to transform the seemingly immutable. Somewhere along the way psychological states of mind reveal themselves, and our outer and inner worlds connect.