© Kuvasto 2016. Photo: © Bank of Finland
METAL PLATE POETRY
In a world of colourful, large and rapidly-repeated images, the subtleties of black and white graphic art can easily be overlooked. Helmi Kuusi’s (1913-2000) atmospheric work “Autumn birch” is the combination of two demanding artistic techniques: drypoint or dry needle (pointe sèche) and mezzotint (manière noire).
Dry needle work demands that a diamond or steel-tipped needle is used to make incisions in a polished steel or copper surface leaving raised rough edges (burrs) to the grooves which are used to effect in the printing process rather than smoothing them off. The mezzotint involves creating a series of fine pitted indentations in a copper plate’s surface using a fine-toothed tool. The resulting tiny pools of ink in the pits create shades of darkness. The technique gets its name from the Italian meaning ‘half tone’.
“Autumn birch” is naturalist in style, almost photographic and at the same time more credible than a photograph. Sharp lines are softened by the shades of tone possible using the mezzotint technique, making colour unnecessary. It isn’t even necessary to depict an autumn breeze, as it is portrayed in the play of light and shade in the clouds.
Helmi Kuusi is particularly known as a lyrically naturalist graphic artist, although she also paints. She had an international and very thorough education. In addition to her schooling in Finland she attended London’s Chelsea Polytechnic, Sweden’s Royal Academy as well as the Académie Julian in Paris. Kuusi was a skilled user of classical, graphic art techniques and her drawing skills were masterful.