Francisco Souto, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Associate Professor of Art, won honorable mention for his piece, "After Uno y el Universo II" at the 2011 International Mezzotint Festival at the Ekaterinburg Museum of Fine Arts in Russia.
This prestigious international competition is dedicated exclusively to the arts of mezzotint printmaking. More than 500 prints were submitted by more than 90 artists from 29 countries for the competition.
Carol Wax, the head of the International Mezzotint Festival Jury Panel, praised "Francisco Souto's ability to simultaneously convey infinitely vast and exquisitely minute universes in one print."
Souto is pleased with the recognition.
"It's nice to receive this kind of recognition since I haven't done mezzotint prints in the last year or so because of my injury. I thought, 'Oh, maybe I can do that again,'" Souto said.
The process of mezzotint
Mezzotint is a printmaking process that dates back to the 17th century, before photography. The whole surface of a metal, usually copper, is roughened evenly, manually with a rocker. If the plate were printed at that point, it would show as solid black. The image is then created by selectively burnishing areas of the surface of the metal plate with metal tools. The smoothed parts will print lighter than those areas not smoothed by the burnishing tool. "Mezzo-tinto" is Italian for "half-tone" or "half-painted."
Through mezzotint, the artist works from dark to light in a subtractive method.
"It's like having a piece of paper covered with graphite or charcoal on it and taking an eraser and erasing back the lights," Souto said. "You start off with the darkest value and then work your way out."
In the 17th century, it was a way to reproduce paintings. It later became obsolete until the 19th century in England when there was a rebirth of the process, and it became a process for artists.
Finding his passion
Souto was born in Venezuela. His father had a winery, and it's there that Souto learned craftsmanship.
"We lived on a farm," he said. "There are a lot of things you can build - tree houses and so on. So I think that notion of learning with your hands, maybe that is why I like printmaking so much. Everything is tangible. You use your hands. It's a tactile feeling that comes from that kind of culture."
Souto received his Master of Fine Arts degree from The Ohio State University. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Herron School of Art and Design of Indiana University, and that is where he learned mezzotint.
Souto had been using a traditional chemical process called aquatint in his printmaking and asked his professor to teach him mezzotint. The professor did not know the technique, but referred Souto to a book on the process by Wax, which Souto read and learned from.
"In many ways, I'm self taught," he said.
He likes the slow process of mezzotint.
"I think what I like is the indirectness in the way that you see the results so slowly," Souto said. "You have to spend so much time with the plate, it's like a meditation. I don't watch TV or anything while I am working on the copper plate. I'm just thinking about my process, what I'm doing, my art. I'm thinking about what my art is about, the aesthetics and theories of things. I'm buying time to think about it. It doesn't get any better than that."
"I was doing it for the last 10 years, pushing the technique to the point that every single print became a challenge to see how I can push myself and the technique," Souto said.
Then, he got injured in 2005 and had to stop doing mezzotint and take a break.
"That was really a beautiful moment. It was a wake up call," he said. "I realized I can't keep pushing myself like that with that intensity for seven to eight hours a day. I have to do something else."
So he began doing other prints and drawings, not only to change his ergonomics, but also "as a way of expanding the vocabulary of my work."
He returned to mezzotint and has taught a workshops on the method in Italy and in Mexico each of the last three years.
"I like mezzotint for that slow resolve of things, but I also like the immediacy of drawing in the same way. What you see is what you get, right on the spot," Souto said. "I can slip back and forth. It's like I'm learning a new language."
Souto joined the UNL faculty in 2004. Prior to UNL, he taught in North Carolina.
His honors include more than 45 national and international awards and grants including Special Prize at the 7th International Triennial of Prints in Japan, selected prize at the 12th International Biennial of Prints and Drawings in China and the International Award at the British International Print Exhibition.
His work has been exhibited in more than 80 venues in the last nine years, including exhibitions in France and New York City. This year, he participated in the exhibition "Epicenter/Epicentro: Re Tracing the Plains" on the occasion of the Venice Biennale 54th International Arts Exhibition in Venice, Italy.