Born in 1931 in Paris, Bertrand Dorny has worked in the ‘Ateliers’ of André Lhote and J. Friedlander. He was a well-known painter before he turned to graphic art. He produces his prints from an assemblage of separate plaques of metal giving each its own texture and colour before printing. The cut-out forms are pushed into the softened paper to different depths, creating the low-relief surfaces special to Dorny. His works are represented in museums around the world and in many private European and American collections.
The Intaglio Prints of Bertrand Dorny
Inhabitant of the Quartier Latin and heir of its long tradition of cerebral poetry, Bertrand Dorny also lives in the Pays de Caux and is intimately familiar with its verdant valleys, its upland fields, its villages and its seaports with their undulant limestone cliffs. The latent opposition between the city, close-woven, noisy and enclosed and the Norman landscape, vaporous, calm and open, can be found in his carefully crafted prints, which thrive on the reconciliation of contrasting qualities.
Crafts are as much an urban as a rural practice, and Dorny’s Norman and Parisian qualities find their common ground in the way he produces his forms. Craft, of course, is at the service of his visual poetry, but it is not an autonomous tool, not a mere transmitter of pre-established ideas. The actual manipulation of his inks, pieces of metal, cutting instruments, emery cloth, aquatint shaker, press and paper gives rise to ideas that are literally rooted in these means of production. One of these elements affects another in ways the artist cannot always foretell hence, frequently, the exhilaration of discovery.
Dorny’s craft is unusual, and bears comparison with both the broad gestures of painting and the shape-definitions of relief sculpture. When we think of traditional techniques of etching and engraving, we conceive of hundreds of lines, flecks, and hatchings that result from metal plates being cut into by needle or burin. Dorny’s prints result instead from separate pieces of zinc (and the interstices between them). Each form is given a texture and a colour. When the whole assemblage is put through the etching press, the cut-out forms will be forced into the paper to different depths, creating the relief surface unique to Dorny-unique even among intaglio printmakers. The print that results is somewhat like an impression from the surface of a low relief sculpture.
To enhance his relief, Dorny treats the edges of his forms with special care. The slight shadows they cast become integral parts of his compositions, and their sculptural role is often enhanced by any one of several techniques. The paper is stretched by the thrust of the edge, and this makes the colour paler, because the white of the paper shows through. Alternatively, an edge can be made darker by letting the ink accumulate there during the wiping-on, or two adjacent areas will be made to overlap slightly, producing a mixture of their two colours.
All these effects along the edges of his forms give lungs to Dorny’s paper, as though it were an organic substance. Pulsations appear to stream through his compositions as one area seems to flow into another, cross over or under a third, or push away a fourth. Because of the actual relief, shadow and light play over the surface and add their breath of vitality. We see the shapes that bulge forward and thanks to their articulated edges, we conceive of them as separate from the flat surface of the paper. Yet, paradoxically, we also see that they grow from the same paper surface and are indissoluble with it. This breathing in and out of the forms is the very heart of Dorny’s intaglio work.
Although each shape within a Dorny has a nearly uniform colour and texture, his compositions can never be accused of mechanical feeling. He coats some of his pieces of metal in emery cloth, which hols a very rich supply of ink. Other he bites with aquatint, but instead of using the traditional mill, he employs a hand shaker for the sake of the irregular speckling that results. Since he can vary the density of the aquatint, and also vary the emery cloth from rough to fine, he can produce a striking range of textures. The aquatint is translucent and breathes, resulting in a sense of depth and vaporousness. The emery areas are the opposite: they hold so much ink that they are opaque and resemble stucco or stones surfaces. The aquatint is purely visual, untouchable and ephemeral; the emery is tactile and sensually appartent.
The plates are put through the press in successive and overlapping inkings, but Dorny’s technique allows him to ink one of his pieces separately before adjusting it in the bed. He usually employs four to six colours plus black (and white of the paper), and because any two of these produce another colour if overlapped, he can obtain a great many hues. Seldom will he use all available colours, but eight to ten are common. Like his shapes, hi colours, both singly and in combination, call forth memories of natural hues. Ochres can seem like minerals, soil or grain fields; blue like sky or water; orange like sunlight; black and dark tones, like shadow or night-time. Midi (1973), for example, has a hot orange, yellow, tan, red, black, white and grey. Of course it would be foolish to look for descriptive hues, but Dorny’s colours are occasionally in subtle dialogue with nature and are one of several devices that make his visual language accessible to us.
Another of these devices is constituted by Dorny’s repertoire of forms, which rewards close study. For example, one of his favoured forms is an elongated ribbon or strip, especially prominent in his Chemins but found throughout his work. The sides of his strips undulate slightly, or bend and therefore, avoiding rigid parallelisms, they have the organic presence of his other shapes. Some of them go from one side of a composition to another; most of them end within the overall rectangle, at times floating above an area, more commonly ending at the edge of another strip or shape. They can veer off at sharp angles, cross over or under another strip, or assume different thicknesses along their pathways.
1957 Galerie Lucy Khrog, Paris
Paris: Musée de l’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris