Lunaria: Carborundum Mezzotints and Haikus by Barbara Rizza Mellin,
March 5-28, 2021, Artworks Gallery, 564 Trade Street, Winston-Salem, NC
(Hours: Fri. 12-3, Sat. 11-5, Sun. 1-4 )
The Latin name lunaria means "moon-shaped" and refers to the shape, silvery sheen and appearance of this species’ silicles or translucent seed cases. (Commonly, this plant is called “honesty” or “money plant.”)
There are two aspects to this exhibition.
One part is a standard gallery format with 16 matted and framed (20”x16”) mezzotint prints on display. However, each artwork also features a different, original haiku, hand-written around the image. These prints feature fragments of this unpretentious plant, with gracefully suspended petals that presents their own subtle elegance in small segments.
The other part of the exhibition is a wall installation featuring 48, rim-less, glass-framed, 6-inch square images. The individual fragments are positioned, so they do not touch, and no border or frame interrupts the fluidity of the petals, allowing them to appear like an elegant ballet of branches. The eye can easily follow the converging paths of stems as imagination fills the gaps to completes the picture. I love the impact of the combined branches and the mass of “floating moon beams” that is created.
This “double haiku” sums up the exhibition experience and philosophy:
Each, single oval,
In the light, near transparent,
Is a precious gem.
In shimmering profusion
They are glorious!
I was inspired to write these haikus after reading a book by my son that was recently published (Driveway Chalk Stars of Pajama Astronomers: A Year of Haiku) about the joyful, poignant and revealing experience of raising his three young boys.
I was struck by how using just these short verses, he could express such vivid description and capture so much meaning. I wanted to try writing some myself.
I was somewhat surprised to find the constraints of the format (Haiku = 3 lines, 5, 7,5 syllables respectively) not only added structure and regularity to the poetry, but also gave them a certain delicate strength.
I think the haikus add a deeper layer to the experience of viewing the artworks.
Carborundum Mezzotint: As a printmaker and art historian, I often reinterpret traditional styles and techniques for contemporary audiences. I was looking for a way to capture the natural, simple beauty of the slightly translucent Lunaria “seed filaments,”, not purely white, but luminous against a dark background. I have long admired the dark, rich tones of Baroque-era mezzotints, and I was pleased to discover Carborundum Gel could be used to achieve a similar result. Highlighting the stark but striking beauty of black and white, mezzotint seemed the perfect medium for this project. (Details about the process are below.)
Preparing the printing plate
Background: Mezzotint is an intaglio printmaking process invented in the mid-17th century, in which, contrary to most printmaking, the image is worked from black to white. The printing plate (traditionally copper or zinc metal) is completely roughened (usually with a metal mezzotint rocker) to create a texture that holds ink. Areas of light are created by removing or smoothing the burr that is raised in the process to return the plate to its original surface that rejects the ink. Mezzotint was especially popular in the 18th and 19th century and used by such artists as Rembrandt, Durer, Goya, and G.H. Rothe. Carborundum Mezzotint is a relatively new printmaking technique invented in the 1930s by Herbert Mesibov, Michael J. Gallagher and Dox Trash (a WPA artist).
Creating and Printing the Image
For the Lunaria images, I’ve used Akua Carborundum Gel to apply a surface of grit through a silkscreen onto a non-porous plastic printing plate. The grit creates a pitted /textured surface that holds the ink. Before the gel dries, I quickly wipe or scrape off portions of the surface to create the desired image. (The gels dries in about 15-20 minutes.) Once it is completely dry, some portions can still be scraped off with a metal mezzotint tool, but most of the positive art areas for this project are created in that first 15-20-minute period. I, then, ink and prepare the plate as I would a traditional mezzotint: 1.Cover the plate with ink, forcing it into the recessed areas. I use a soy-based, non-toxic ink. 2.Wipe off all the surface ink. Since the Carborundum is delicate, this must be done more gently than with traditional mezzotints. Finally, 3. Place the plate on my etching press, cover with a dampened piece of printing paper and pull the print through the press, which forces the damp paper into the pits and grooves to pull out the ink. Of course, the image is reversed in the final print. This process is repeated for each printing.