Michel Estèbe is one of the few modern masters of the mezzotint. Born in Talence on the outskirts of Bordeaux in 1954, Estèbe studied at the École des Beaux Arts de Bordeaux. He began to work as a lithographic printer before taking up original printmaking. His first prints were engravings done in the early 1980s. Like other printmakers of his generation, such as Erik Desmazières and François Houtin, Estèbe’s work was influenced by the Surrealistic and futuristic elements found in French pop culture of the late 1970s.

In 1987 Estèbe produced his first black and white mezzotints. They seem to harness the light that shines out of the darkness, giving each subject a very particular mysterious atmosphere. This early part of his œuvre consists of 23 prints, of which ten were for Les Poètes du Voyage, an album of illustrated travel-related poems.

Mezzotint, which means "half-tint" in Italian, is a method of creating a tonal intaglio image. The distinctive feature of mezzotint is the subtlety with which the darkest black graduates to white. To make a mezzotint, the entire surface of a copper plate is evenly pitted with an engraving tool called a rocker. If the plate were inked and printed, it would create a solid black shape. To obtain shades of grey and white highlights, the roughened plate is scraped and burnished to remove some of the texture so that in these areas the plate holds less ink. Color images increase the difficulty because a separate plate is required for each color. Because the process of creating a mezzotint is extremely time-consuming and specialized, few twentieth century and contemporary artists employ this method of printmaking.

In 1990 Estèbe began to print his mezzotint compositions in color using as many as four plates. At this time the subject matter and style shifted from a romantic sensibility to still-lifes that are realistic though exaggerated and quirky. The artist revels in the creation of shapes through his rendition of unusual subject matter, softened tones, and transparencies.

Estèbe has evolved as an artist and is always considering the next direction his work will take. He recently stopped using a key plate printed in black, instead mixing multiple colors to obtain darkness. He thus avoids the stark contrasts which have sometimes made mezzotint a predictable medium. The artist comments on the image he made for the Print Club,

Coquillage by Michel Estebe

The print for The Print Club of Cleveland is part of a series dedicated to seashells. This series was the basis for a new mezzotint technique for me.It consists in engraving three color plates: a yellow, a red and a blue one. The layering of these three translucent ink colors creates an image. Unlike my earlier work, black is not used at all in these images.

Through Bernard Derroitte from Armstrong Fine Art, who represents my work, I was aware that my work was well known by members of The Print Club of Cleveland.  The opportunity to be part of a tradition of printmaking going backto 1924 was important to me.

Estèbe takes great pride in preparing his own plates; rocking the plate, mixing his own colors, and printing each impression himself. An extraordinary draftsman, he also enjoys creating large watercolors that stylistically resemble the color mezzotints. He has also printed the work of a small number of other artists such as Philippe Mohlitz. He currently lives and works in a small coastal town near his place of birth.

AWARDS

1977
Drawing award of the Académie des Sciences et Belles Lettres de Bordeaux.
1983
Award of the Musée Ingres – Montauban.

Exhibitions

1981
Galerie Le Tintamarre – Bordeaux, France.
1982
Galerie Bernier – Paris, France.
1983/84
Musée Ingres – Montauban, France.
1985
Galerie Atelier 80 – Bordeaux, France.
1987
Galerie Letu – Geneva, Switzerland.
1988
Biennale Mondiale d’Estampes – Chamalières, France.
Gravures d’Aujourd’hui – Bordeaux, France.
1990
Intergrafk 90 – Berlin, Germany.
Salon International de la Gravure – Nantes, France.
1991
Deuxième Triennale Mondiale d’Estampes – Chamalières, France.
1992
Galerie Atelier 80 – Bordeaux, France.
1993
Galerie Michèle Broutta, ‘La Manière Noire’ – Paris, France.
Galerie Angelholm – Sweden.
1994
Galerie L’Estampe – Strasbourg, France.
1995
Galerie Cupillard – Grenoble, France.
1996
Galerie Michèle Broutta – Paris, France.
Galerie Synthèse – Bruxelles, Belgium.
1997
Galerie Atelier 80 – Bordeaux, France.
Galerie Angelholm – Sweden.
Galerie Flamengo – Sweden.
2000
Richard Reed Armstrong Fine Art – Chicago, IL.
2001
Galerie Cupillard – Grenoble, France.
2002
Richard Reed Armstrong Fine Art (Works on Paper) – New York, NY & Chicago, IL.
2004
Arsène Bonafous-Murat – Paris, France.
2006
Falteri – Firenze, Italy.
Arsène Bonafous-Murat – Paris, France.
2007
Armstrong Fine Art – Clevaland, OH & Chicago, IL.
2009
Falteri – Firenze, Italy.
Galerie Cupillard – Grenoble, France.
2010
Galerie 2016 – Neufchâtel, Switzerland.

By Margaret Dobbins

COQUILLAGE, The Print Club of Cleveland Publication No. 89, 2011. Color mezzotint on BFK Rives paper. Printed by the artist in Bordeaux, France.