Tuesday, 4 August 2015


Collagraph print developed from a drawing in wax on the card 'plate',
 then cut and printed itaglio. 

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

The Famous Contrivance

Mezzotint is justifiably famous for what it’s famous for.
It is famed for the black, the night sky cosmos deep black first seen in print at a time before we’d come to know that every milliarcsecond in the skies is glinting with galaxies, that black nevertheless, a black that in the intaglio pantheon only mezzotint gives.
No other printed black had quite compared to it, never before, and not yet since.  

 Mezzotint is famous for having two zeds.  As a word, the double zedded mezzanine, seems to be well liked too.
It’s famous as a clique.  Historians love it, dealers specialize and collectors compete, online social media groups cluster and chat making heroes of the print-tech gurus, for its fame is justified in the studio, where it really counts.

Mezzotint gives the artist nigh infinite, and very intimate control of tonal values.

It gives a lot for free in this respect, and the harder worked the more rewarding it becomes.  The giving though, is not given for free for marvelous as mezzotint is for tone, it is considerable less good for line, which, in print terms means any hard edge.  Hard edges can be achieved in mezzotint only by contrivance either in the plate making, or at the printing stage.
Mezzotint is the quintessential monochrome medium.  This does not preclude colour but however the mezzotinter wishes to use colour, whether by pre-colouring the printing paper, by inking the plates in colour either single or multi-plate, or by hand-colouring the prints, the making of the plate(s) has to be pre-figured accordingly.  Failure to do this results in a gloomy mess, which if gloomy is what the artist wants all well and good, but if not, the printmaker will be in trouble.
Thirdly, a minor but not unimportant point: the mezzotint print surface is flat.  Not so flat as lithography and nothing like so flat as screen polished digital, but mezzotints don’t have the surface vivacity of an etching or aquatint.  If print surface texture, either physically or within the image is required, this too can be achieved but only at the price of elaborate contrivance.

Contrivance is fine. 

The notion of spontaneity in printmaking is a highly conditional quality, elusive and of course much sought after, and much prized.
The direct mark, the emotive rapid response and fluidity of thought are all subject to the slowing and sure battering of process and technique.  There is always something between artist and viewer be it plate, block, or computer screen.  Spontaneity can be nodded at in direct lithography, even nodded to in line etching, but by the time the printmaking artist addresses the more abstruse, arcane, and new, print media, contrivance is the name of the game. 
Mezzotint is contrived to a fault.  To push the point, the thought of winging it in mezzotint is a non-starter even though I hate to be the one who says, ‘Don’t do it, don’t try’.
No, I’d like to say, ‘Go for it’.  (Break your arms, and bank account, make the time, it might work.)
Actually don’t.  Really.
To get the best from mezzotint, play the game.  Pre-figure the image then contrive it in the making.

Does this mean that mezzotint is not a pure medium?
Consider that mezzotint was the most glorious flowering of reproductive craft when reproduction meant the interpretation of an original as opposed to the multitude of photographic rendering processes (many now historical oddities) that we are accustomed to.  As a craft skill, the contrivances however elaborate, became intrinsic, and unsurprisingly were encouraged and indeed limited by commercial imperative. 
Artists took note.  Think of Turner’s famous set of 10, pre-etched, rocked over and craft worked up to his drawings; of John Martin, who’s in-house mezzotint interpretations of his paintings arguably transcend the originals.

Today, the killer is the cost.
If only mezzotint was just expensive (like photogravure) it would be easier to deal with.  Either, one has the money or not; you can raise the cash, or you can’t; the ante can be justified one way or another, or, you try it another way.
The cost of mezzotint is not the tools, or the materials, neither cheap but not bank breaking either.  There are no chemicals involved, or software, and there is no wizard to hire.

Mezzotint is slow.

No amount of cash can shortcut time and time is the costliest of commodities. 


Sunday, 31 August 2014


THE NEIGHBOUR I haven’t seen for three years, not a whisker, landed with a thump and parting of leaves, cries of recognition and the early courtesies of long absence. 

I thought she were dead, or geriatric, rueing the faster breed of mouse and finding that garden walls were higher than they used to be. 

I’ve had a decade birthday in the intervening time, now she has a rheumy eye, but that aside we look in fine fettle, or so I told each other as fur flying, we cuddled and purred.  The only neighbourhood mog smart enough to negotiate my insect screen net without a hissing squalling tangle, Mad Mog called at will, appeared at my feet, surprised at my bedside, vetted my guests, harried the house spiders and went on her way again.  She came and went so frequently, it was like having a cat of my own.  Fur collected amongst the dust.  A smeary of grime from her self stroking passage marred the lower edges of door jambs.  Never hungry, she’s loved at home, well catered for chip and pinned, Mad Mog didn't come for the food that I would provide a needy visitor.  I gave her nothing yet still she visited and I got into the habit of checking she wasn’t here each time I locked up and left. 

Two kittens, brother and sister, one black one gold and now grown, have taken pussy possession of the jungle that my yard has become.  They in their curiosity have each attempted access, both confounded and black one entrapped in the netting.  Their youthful bombast, I’d thought, would be too much for an old puss, high wall notwithstanding and perhaps it was. 

But, I’m not forgotten and I shall check the premises carefully when I leave for my feet and the chair legs are being face wiped as I type. 
There’s a floor level purring. 

Thursday, 23 May 2013

& The Art Fair From Hell

On-screen work and the online project is compulsive. 
VERNISSAGE was obsessive to do, and now done, I sit in front of an idle screen and twiddle through the links, see I haven't blogged, nurtured social networks or tweeted. 
I've thought I had something to blog but I haven't written a post this year. 
The neighbours have vacated to quieter premises leaving me their builders who work hard and long, breaking down, drilling, grinding and hammering.  One by one, all my neighbours dance the property market value massage jig, the compulsive attention deficit social disorder to tinker and titify to the music of cash.  I don't know what they see in their extra bits here and there. 
Turkish eyes don't see what I do. 
The city of Izmir is a Turkish anachronism.  A secular bastion in an increasingly religious, modernizing country.  Risen from the ashes of Smyrna, Izmir is a work and play hard, fad-fast, stuff needy, get it and flaunt it place.  A reactionary throwback of pre-crash rich noughties style, of good-life middle-class expectations dressed up as liberality. 
It is an art-free zone. 
There is a vast exhibition centre set in a beautiful central park smack downtown, and quite predictably, business minded Izmir tries an International Art Fair of its own.  The art-fair is an established business model, there's cash and cachet in art somewhere, it's just more than a question of working the angles. 


Turkish artists face difficult times. 
Istanbul aside, Turkey is an art-free country.  There is rich heritage and art in Turkey, and both are there to stand in front of as photo backdrops.  For good reason.  Any area beyond the perimeter is unheeded.  There is no view that is not marred by block on blocks of apartments and more-of-the-same development in concrete poured drab uniformity. 
I don't know what Turkish eyes see.  They certainly look at each other looking at everyone on the lookout.  From my Kamilkoç coach, the urban homogeny is almost painful.  A sprawl of 6-8 storied blocks, the odd new mall and mosque, and what have Turkey done to their mosques?  They're all new.  Not the famous ones of course, they're still there as backdrops, no, the local mosques big and small built to centralized designs with concrete-pipe-perfect tin topped minarets, and silver domes glinting like freshly washed and draining cooking pots. 

Wondrous food and hospitality and Turkish eyes too, but what do we see?