Michel Estèbe

Born in Talence, France, February 14, 1954

Michel Estèbe was born in Talence, on the outskirts of Bordeaux. He studied at the École des Beaux Arts de Bordeaux and ran his own lithography studio in Bordeaux for a few years, before taking up his own printmaking in earnest.  His first forays into printmaking were with pure-line engravings done in the early to mid-1980s.  Reminiscent of other printmakers of his generation such as Erik Desmazières, Philippe Mohlitz and François Houtin, his work was influenced by Surrealistic and Futuristic elements often found in French pop culture of the late 1970s and 1980’s.

In 1987 Estèbe created his first mezzotints in a traditional black and white technique.  His subject matter combined Romantic nudes, inspired by the “Orientialists”, with desolate landscapes and abandoned urban settings.  In these compositions Estèbe harnesses the light that shines out of the darkness, giving his subject a very particular mysterious atmosphere.  This part of his œuvre consists of 23 prints, of which ten were for Les Poètes du Voyage, an album of illustrated travel-related poems.

In 1990, around the time of the birth of his daughter, Michel Estèbe began to add color plates to his mezzotint compositions, using as many as four plates, printed au repérage.  In these works colors are printed from registered plates that line up to create a seamless color image.  At this time his subject matter and style drastically shifted from a Romantic sensibility to still-lifes.  These compositions are generally speaking realistic, though exaggerated and quirky.  He revels in the creation of unexpected images by representing both common and unusual subject matters: birds, flowers, insects, fruits, shells…  The use of bright colors, always harmoniously balanced, is a personal strength.

While he works most notably in color mezzotint, for which he has a fondness, Michel has evolved as an artist and is always looking for the next direction in his artwork.  Traditionally, mezzotints have a dark or pure black background.  Estèbe, however, has experimented with lighter backgrounds and occasionally adds drypoint to his prints.  Such a combination of drypoint and mezzotint is a technique innovated by him.  We have not encountered other artists mixing these techniques as strikingly as he has.

Estèbe on occasion has created black and white drypoints for which shading and texture is achieved with the mezzotint rocker. This method is similar to the way Charles Dufrense used the tool in the 1920s.  Since 2007 Estèbe at times avoids the use of a traditional “key” plate in black ink, instead favoring the mixture of multiple colors to obtain darkness.  He thus avoids the stark contrasts which have sometimes made mezzotint a predictable medium.

Michel takes great pride in preparing his own plates, rocking the plate to perfection, mixing his own colors and pulling each impression himself.  A gifted draftsman, he also enjoys creating large watercolored drawings and monotypes, which stylistically resemble his color mezzotints.  They enable the artist to work on a much larger scale than is afforded in his prints.

Michel Estèbe lives and works in a small coastal town on the Arcachon Bay, within walking distance from the sea, and beyond the bay, of the Atlantic.

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