Witness II, 2018, Mezzotint, 4×4 in.

Closing out our Artist Features for The Contemporary Print: 5×5 is Australian-based artist Cleo Wilkinson. Working primarily in Mezzotints, Wilkinson brings out subtle images from the rich black background that can only be achieved with this form of printmaking.

Often taking hundreds of hours to complete a print, Mezzotints require the artist to meticulously prepare a metal plate by rocking a special curved serrated tool back and forth to create a stippled texture across the entire surface. This rough texture then gets smoothed by a scraper or burnisher revealing an image out of subtle gradations. The various burrs left on the plate have different capacities to hold ink, which creates the velvety textures characteristic of Mezzotints. Wilkinson describes the process as “very challenging, frustrating and unforgiving.” However, she shares that “the reward of nursing the life of an image out of its pitch black has a primordial spiritual magic.”

Plate detail for Then IV, 2020, Mezzotint, 8×8 in.

Wilkinson came across the Mezzotint technique in a book while attending Elam Art School at Auckland University in New Zealand in the 1970s. She became fascinated by the tonality that can be achieved and taught herself the technique, even assembling her own “rocker” out of a knurling tool normally used to create a grip pattern on screwdriver handles, since the traditional tools were not readily available to her. She wholeheartedly took to the slow and meditative process and has been working in Mezzotints since. “It slows and quietens the mind,” she wrote in an email to us.

PrintEXPO 2020
Cleo Wilkinson’s studio in Melbourne, Australia

Wilkinson’s fascination with the relationship between light and dark, informs not only her work in printmaking, but also her figurative realist sculptures and drawings. She notes, “In sculpture, I am forever training my eye to sight subtle changes in tonal values, shapes, structure and sensitivity to the infinite changes and nuances of light and shade.” In this spirit, she carves light out of the roughened Mezzotint plate, as if working on a two-dimensional sculpture.

Then IV, 2020, Mezzotint, 8×8 in.

The intimacy she appreciates in this demanding printmaking process has inspired her to scale down in size. Measuring as small 4×4 inches, her miniature prints aim to produce quiet, private experiences for the viewer, truly “creating visual impact out of proportion to its size.” 

To view more of Cleo Wilkinson’s work, visit cleosart.com or the virtual iteration of The Contemporary Print: 5×5 through the end of February:

The Contemporary Print: 5×5

Presented in partnership with Big Medium, PrintAustin’s 8th annual international juried exhibition, The Contemporary Print: 5×5, is juried by Delita Martin of Black Box Press Studio. This virtual exhibition showcases five works by five contemporary artists from the United States, Australia, and Slovenia, giving us a broad survey of printmaking happening across the globe. 

This year’s selected artists include Chloe Alexander (Atlanta, Georgia), John Klosterman IV (Tuscaloosa, Alabama), Oliver Pilic (Kamnik, Slovenia), Laura Post (Fort Worth, Texas), and Cleo Wilkinson (Melbourne, Australia).

Views from Cleo Wilkinson’s studio in Melbourne, Australia