The Fifty Shades Of Grey In Mezzotint Prints Of Mikio Watanabe
27 juli 2022 
23 min. read

The Fifty Shades Of Grey In Mezzotint Prints Of Mikio Watanabe

Mikio Watanabe (b. 1954) is a Japanese printmaker working in a mezzotint technique which implies using a copper plate. In this monochrome printing, different tonalities are achieved by roughening or "rocking" a metal plate with thousands of dots. The result is a dimensional image with rich gradations of colors. Most of Wanatabe's nude prints are made in black and white. Yet, the artist works in color printing and produces mesmerizing meditative images of animals and insects in Japanese style.

Mikio Watanabe in Ekaterinburg, Russia, 2019

Fig. 1. Mikio Watanabe in Ekaterinburg, Russia, 2019 (

mikio watanabe Daydream

Fig. 2. Daydream (

mikio watanabe Meeting

Fig. 3. Meeting (

 mikio watanabe Tolerance

Fig. 4. Tolerance (

mikio watanabe Kisvin – Butterflies

Fig. 5. Kisvin – Butterflies (

mikio watanabe Cabbage

Fig. 6. Cabbage (

mikio watanabe Nenuphar

Fig. 7. Nenuphar (

mikio watanabe Night Flight

Fig. 8. Night Flight (

Cultivating Silence

Mikio Watanabe was born in Yokohama. Graduated from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts of Tokyo in 1977, he heads for Paris and crosses Siberia after setting off Yokohama harbor. For two years, from 1979 to 1981, he studies engraving techniques at the Atelier 17 with Stanley William Hayter (1901-1988), one of the most significant printmakers of the 20th century. Since 1981, Watanabe has been working majorly with mezzotint. As the artist says, "With patience, I engrave while cultivating silence. I like the anonymity of the body, the unspoken gestures, and the praise of the intimate. I am the son of a carpenter and have a taste for empty spaces and the observation of nature from my childhood in Japan" ( In 2001, Watanabe set up a studio in Paris. Nowadays, the artist resides and works in Brittany. He has had more than fifty solo shows around the world. In 2018, he was awarded First Prize in Classical Printmaking at the Miniprint Kazanlak festival, Bulgaria. In 2017, he also won the Grand Prix of the 4th International Mezzotint Festival in Ekaterinburg, Russia. The previews of his artbooks are shown on his website Besides, there you can take a look at his watercolors and stunning photography.

mikio watanabe mikio watanabe Nu-h, 1982

Fig. 9. Nu-h, 1982 (

 mikio watanabe mikio watanabe Nu-h, 1984

Fig. 10. Nu-u, 1984 (

 mikio watanabe nterval

Fig. 11. Interval (

 mikio watanabe Dawn II

Fig. 12. Dawn II (

 mikio watanabe Forest

Fig. 13. Forest  (

mikio watanabe Detachment

Fig. 14. Detachment (

mikio watanabe Two backsides

Fig. 15. Two backsides, 1988 (

 mikio watanabe Four knees,

Fig. 16. Four knees, 1988 (

 mikio watanabe On the Hill

Fig. 17. On the Hill, 1990 (

mikio watanabe Genius

Fig. 18. Genius (

mikio watanabe The Morning

Fig. 19. The Morning, 1993 (

mikio watanabe Mélancolie II

Fig. 20. Mélancolie II, 1996 (

What Is Mezzotint

Mezzotint, also: manière noire or schabkunst (the art of a scraper) was invented by Ludwig von Siegen in the 17th century. The first mezzotints were produced by the light-to-dark method in which the artists left the copper plate smooth in areas where the image was supposed to be white. The print could be created directly by roughening a blank plate in darker zones. But the more common method is dark-to-light when the printmaker roughens the whole plate mechanically with a special tool called a "rocker." It consists of a scraper with small teeth fixed on a wooden support. When the artist roughens the metal, he moves the tool making it rock like a crib. The more dots are made, the better the plate will keep the paint. This time-consuming process requires several hours to months, depending on the size of the image. After rocking, the plate is selectively burnished in lighter areas.

mikio waranabe Elevation I

Fig. 21. Elevation I (

 mikio watanabe mikio waranabe Elevation I

Fig. 22. Elevation II (

mikio watanabe Seek the Light

Fig. 23. Seek the Light (

 mikio watanabe Sublimation

Fig. 24. Sublimation (

mikio watanabe Partition

Fig. 25. Partition, 1993 (

 mikio watanabe Serenity

Fig. 26. Serenity, 1992 (

mikio watanabe Duet I

Fig. 27. Duet I, 1994 (

 mikio watanabe Back

Fig. 28. Back (

mikio watanabe Sleep

Fig. 29. Sleep, 1996 (

mikio watanabe Day and Night I

Fig. 30. Day and Night I (

mikio watanabe Day and Night II

Fig. 31. Day and Night II (

mikio watanabe Milky Way

Fig. 32. Milky Way (

mikio watanabe  Abyss

Fig. 33. Abyss (

Created Of Dust

The numerous prints depicting the mesmerizing dance of glowing nymphs show what the fifty shades of grey can be like if it's a work of a skillful artist. The mezzotint method makes Watanabe's nudes look sculptured. The images of an elfish female body (which is frequently of the artist's wife Yuriko) acquire a velvet texture and remind us of a dune moving in the desert. In the works of Watanabe, the biblical quotation "For you are dust, And to dust you shall return" is aestheticized in an Eastern way. What sounds like doom to Western people, the printmaker turns into a moment of beauty that can be saved in art. What's more, judging by titles (Milky Way, Abyss), the human body, which is the most fragile substance, turns into the symbol of the universe. All in all, the space that seems immortal is also created of dust.

mikio watanabe Hatching

Fig. 34. Hatching, 1997 (

 mikio watanabe Terre II

Fig. 35. Terre II, 1996 (

 mikio watanabe Terre I

Fig. 36. Terre I, 1996 (

mikio watanabe  Fusion I

Fig. 37. Fusion I (

mikio watanabe mikio watanabe Fusion I

Fig. 38. Fusion II (

 mikio watanabe Origin

Fig. 39. Origin, 1997 (

 mikio watanabe Grace

Fig. 40. Grace (

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About the author
Darya is a philologist who lives and works in Saint-Petersburg, Russia. She is specialized in Russian literature.
Bruno Courcelle

Bruno Courcelle

on 27 Jul 2022

Mikio Watanabe is boring. I sent you pictures by the excellent Dubout that I have seen yet.

Marijn Kruijff

Marijn Kruijff

on 27 Jul 2022

Thanks Bruno. Question of taste. Those Dubout pics will be added in the near future.



on 29 Jul 2022

Mikio Watanabe is amazing. What's more, you can write an article on Dubout yourself - that's the safest way not to get bored ;)

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