Mario Avati is widely considered to be one of the world’s greatest printmakers, and he and Yozo Hamaguchi are viewed as the best mezzotint artists in modern history.
Avati studied at the École Nationale des Arts Décoratifs in Nice, where his taste for black and white was encouraged by his first professor, Jules Lenengrade, and the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He then entered the ranks of professional printmakers; by about 1944 his practice was exclusively in mezzotint. He worked first in black but in 1969 he began working with color. He was fundamental to the revival of mezzotint in the twentieth century.
Mezzotint is among the most demanding mediums in art. Indeed, the great printmaker M.C. Escher tried and quickly abandoned mezzotint as “too difficult”. To make a mezzoprint, a copper plate is “rocked” with a curved, notched blade until the surface is entirely pitted. At this stage, the plate would print a rich, uniform black. But the artist then uses a scraper or burnisher to flatten the raised parts—a little for dark grays, a lot for light grays, completely for white. This allows the artist access to a virtually infinite range of tonal subtlety. Colors are achieved by similarly working one or more supplementary plates. Avati’s mastery of the medium is most remarkable in his still lifes, which represent the largest portion of his œuvre.
Avati built an international stature with dozens of sole shows across the globe and his work found in well over 100 public collections, including including the Biblioteque Nationale, the Museum of Tokyo, the Victor and Albert, MOMA, the Uffizi, the Library of Congress, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and many others.