Japanese artist and master printer Hiromi Hirao uses the traditional mezzotint method to create remarkable impressions of botanical studies. Her work explores the ethereal and sensual beauty of floral form. Shadowy interior spaces seduce the eye with their delicate tonal transitions. The works sublime beauty is ephemeral and, yet, emanates vitality. Each piece, in the artists words, celebrates life.
Dating back to the 17th century, a mezzotint –from the Italian mezzo (“half”) and tinta (“tone”)– is a type of intaglio print that presents halftones through subtle gradations of light and shade, rather than lines. Mezzotints are made using a copper plate that has been roughened with a semi-circular fine-toothed tool (knows as a ‘rocker’ or ‘berceau’) to yield a pronounced overall burred texture. At this stage, the plates will print a solid field of intense, velvety black; the artist then scrapes or burnishes the plate, smoothing some of the burr, in order to reveal the lights and shadows. This process results in a rich tonal-range that is unique to mezzotints. Due to the fragility of the burred surface,which deteriorates rapidly from repeated printing, each plate will only render a small number of high-quality prints.
Successful mezzotints require great amount of time, skill, and effort. It is the complexity of the medium that draws Hirao, she explains: “I value the importance of yuragi (fluctuation, complexity), which can only be realized by human hands; therefore, I challenge myself to utilize this method for my creations.”
For Hirao, the anticipation of what the materials can do on their own, without her intervention, is what first drew her to copperplate engraving. “White has always been my favorite color,” she states, “and I have conducted many experiments to express white’s nature most effectively; eventually, I found that the mezzotint technique is most suitable for my purpose, as the velvety black it creates compliments white most beautifully.”
Hirao begins by combining varios techniques (such as etching, aquatint, and photo etching) to create a base composition and then finishes the piece with a rocker. This process allows her to achieve more complex effects and depth in her finished pieces.
She takes photographs of the motifs, instead of sketching them, which, Hirao explains, gives her more options to manipulate each image and “create a magical sensation before transcribing it to onto the plate.” Botan ’10 1 and Botan ’10 II were created from photographs taken by the artists of the flowers in full bloom at the Peony Garden of the Kamakura Hachimangu Shrine in Japan.
Hiromi Hirao graduated from the Joshibi University of Art and Design in Tokyo and studied independently with Print-Master Masashi Ozaki. Her work has been shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions across Japan, as well as in Canda and the Netherlands. Hunter Gather has the pleasure of showing Hirao’s exceptional pieces in the United States for the first time.Written by Laura Rossi