Director’s Pick: Cleo Wilkinson

Then V
Mezzotint, 2020
Nursing an image out of its black womb into light has a primordial spiritual magic. I try to emphasize the singularity silence and loneliness of a form. What is missing in the shadows and is suggested provides the greatest potential. the Mezzotint Print technique remains unchanged for the last 300 years it achieves tonality by roughening the metal plate with a rocker to produce a rich black creating a high level of tonal richness.
Websitenews interview in bulgaria

Cleo was unable to do an interview but kindly provided responses to some questions we had about her experience as an artist and printmaker.

I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Hons) from Elam Art school Auckland University (New Zealand ). Majored in Printmaking and Art History . I wanted to study figurative sculpture however it was not offered  . I  become an  accidental  printmaker  after  discovering  the  Mezzotint. It was able to appease the frustrated sculptor in me as it was all about chiaroscuro / tonal graduations   and light and shade .I’m completely self   taught nobody was  teaching or practicing   Mezzotint   at Art School   and there were no tools  so I had to source them or have them made .

I have also studied figurative sculpture   privately with a Russian   monumental sculptor for over 10 years . I have attended numerous   figurative atelier workshops worldwide  (New York , Paris , Barcelona etc ).(see attached CV for more details). 

I have been practicing Mezzotinting for approx. 40 years and I work completely alone   – I have a small art studio at home.  

 The Mezzotint Technique   allows me to nurse   an image out of   its   black womb into   light   it has a   primordial   spiritual magic – like a birth   .  

The mezzotint technique is meditative and it slows and quietens the mind   . It is extremely time-consuming – during this long time a delicate intimacy with the plate develops that brings out the sensitivity inside me. Giving form and light to what was   absolute  darkness .The Mezzotint Print   technique   remains   unchanged for the last 300 years it   achieves tonality by roughening the metal plate with a rocker or roulette  to   produce a rich black creating a high level of   tonal richness then painstaking burnishing of the plate and many trial printings to   create the image .The tiny dots created on the plate by the roulette  are the ancestor of the Pixel.

About “Then V “  

This work and all my images are   intuitive and   visceral  –   they   grow out of instinct   rather than any planning  or reasoning . 

I’ve always been interested in elusive and mysterious aspects of our human existence. My figure-narratives are characterized by an arcane -like quality. Figures   suggest   memory, longing, or emotional thresholds   and the human condition . They occupy timeless psychological spaces not any specific ‘place’ often they are lost in their own thoughts   and surrounded by darkness.  

As with this work   and  my other works I continue to explore ideas focusing on the theme of existence .Visual   statements about   our vulnerability   , aloneness and existence . The way creation   and life emerges from complete darkness   .  

I try to emphasize the singularity silence and loneliness of   a forms-   exploring   stillness   , silence , simplicity quietude , fragility (an antidote to this   hurried ,noisy world) . What is missing in the shadows and is suggested   provides the greatest potential   .

Did you have support from family when you were starting out?

My family were indifferent  and generally disinterested. I guess the positive of this is that the art that I did was not influenced or affected by family members – it was truly my own. Also, decision to develop it or not was mine alone.

How long has it taken you to be successful working with your medium?

I’m not sure what the definition of “successful” means ?- I  feel I’m just beginning (after 40  years of working with the mezzotint ) and have a very long way to go . Working with  mezzotint  ebbs and flows . Sometimes  it feels like two steps forward 3 steps back.

What I would like to say is that the mezzotint technique is over 300 years old and has remained unchanged – this is a very special and unique feeling.

It is a hugely sensual, intimate and physical experience .It is extremely tactile  – the rough copper plate  being smoothed by the burnisher to create light and touched carefully by the fingertips (you can read the image like braille with your fingertips ) , the softness and moisture of the paper , richness  and smell of the ink , and subtle indentation of the final print. The physicality of the press.

However the process  and technique is very challenging , frustrating  and unforgiving – which creates a love /hate conflicted   relationship  – even though it is an enduring one .

There is also a  slow methodical , rhythm of  the process. The  need for the solitude when giving birth to the print  and working on the image , soft gentle melancholy of bringing  the image into existence.

I believe the mezzotint has a timeless  soul, it is deep and black and  it reaches down and touches the light.

Why do you use the subject matter, or imagery, you’ve chosen as it relates to your ‘artistic message’ or what you’re trying to communicate ?

I do not  consciously choose my subject matter /themes etc – working  intuitively / viscerally  they  grow out of instinct  rather than any planning  or reasoning.

Simple objects like the egg   are related to the very deepest roots of our existence   .They can be given  a  mystery , visual purity  and poetry by manipulating their delicate shadows and reflections. They can   transform from ordinary  into something more profound. The egg holds  particular symbolic significance, it is  visual shorthand for new life and pure potential.

We live in a world drowning in noise and frenetic movement and distraction   . The whole culture is telling you to hurry and how you should  think and feel.

In our busy noisy world quiet places  and images  to allow you to pause  are disappearing .I explore stillness   , silence , simplicity quietude – to stop and pause is a gift to give ourselves .

In this stillness and the silence  everyday objectives  get their power. I like to suggest  not prescribe –  what is missing in the shadows and is suggested  provides the greatest potential for me  and deepens the mystery.

The blackness is the most important part of the print – this leaves the observer  to fill it  with their imagination ..then observer  is a creator  of the image as much as the artist.

The Figure serves as a cover surface for implied projections. The figure might be the motif but the real subject is the human condition .They are not in action, and remain unmoved by their surroundings, they are restrained and inwardly focused. An impression arises of intimate isolation. Meeting up with ourselves is rare  in today’s world it is a gift and a great challenge :  an encounter with one‘s self is complicated but also the most inevitable of all our relationships.

I  love the work of by Peter Ilsted and Vilhelm Hammershøi  leading artists in early 20th-century part of the “Denmark Copenhagen Interior School’ They are famous for painting images of “Sunshine and Silent Rooms” their figures turned away from the viewer project an air of slight tension and mystery. similar to Vermeer . Their interiors evoke a sense of calm and mystery.

What inspired you to participate in this print show?

Recently, I have become very interested in  exploring the miniature format and  fascinated by the power of the small print – it is a more intimate, quiet, private experience, demanding control and focus and creating visual impact  out of proportion to its size. The viewer is invited into an intimate and immense universe creating a very private experience as the viewer must come close and experience it alone. Small works have a graceful gemlike quality .Thank you for supporting the miniature print format!

What advice would you give to someone thinking about trying printmaking?

Explore, experiment  and expose  yourself to as many  techniques as possible when starting – keep it as   broad as possible – don’t limit yourself .–This provides a foundation   and library to draw from  but it also allows you to discover which  technique/medium to channel your voice the most fluidly. Sometimes it is not what you planned or expected.

Sometimes it’s the technique that chooses you  and  you  augment its expression  and materials  .

Be true to your own personal expression don’t follow trends,   fashions, movements,  find your own voice.

Warm Regards,

The other work submitted :

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