The Patterned Landscape: Brigitte Caramanna’s nature etchings

Brigitte Caramanna’s etchings range from intimate cellular landscapes to vast, otherworldly stretches of rocky terrain. Other times, she draws on organic bursts embodied by the branching of a tree or the budding of a cell. Her prints can feel unsettling, the way film negatives do. Their inversion of colors suggest a phantasmagorical alternate reality. Yet, despite the eeriness, a serenity pervades her work. It’s the contemplative peace of a strong line.

First can we just start with some background about yourself?

I am an artist currently living in New York City. I use printmaking, typically etching, to create my artwork. My background is in fine arts. I will be starting an MFA program in the fall.

You incorporate a fair amount of science in your work, whether it is a macro focus on nature or micro focus on cell membranes. Where did this come from?

I enjoy playing with the macro and micro when viewing nature. I appreciate tiny organisms and examining them closely. That way, I can attempt to represent numerous intricate details. I also enjoy thinking about the relationship between life on a micro level in comparison to the vastness of outer space.

You work on a relatively small scale compared with massive canvases. What made you choose etchings as your preferred medium?

Etching typically has the artist work on a smaller scale which I enjoy because it allows for intricate details to be represented. I also love the process. It slows me down and makes me take extra time between drawing and etching the plate. It relates to my work being about nature because it is made slowly and asks to be viewed closely and intimately.

How does etching inform and influence how you approach your work and subjects?

I think etching relates to the subject matter I choose to portray. After I draw onto a zinc plate, I place it into the acid multiple times and wait to see the result. It takes multiple steps to draw details and I use aquatint for textures and tones. Once I am satisfied with the image on the plate, I apply multiple layers of color to the plate then experiment printing it in different ways.

When I survey the body of your work, the term that usually comes to mind are “cellular landscapes”. Cellular views and broader landscapes. The two are almost interchangeable in your work. Landscapes resemble cell membranes and vice versa. In your piece “Galaxies” you take the cosmic and make it almost resemble a microscope slide. Can you discuss landscapes in your work?

I enjoy playing with the scale of different landscapes in my work. What’s seen through a microscope and telescope are very different in scale yet can be very similar in the patterns that are presented. A landscape is relative to the size of the organism viewing it. This is precisely what I try to depict in the piece Galaxies. I enjoy the idea of these two very different atmospheres feeling so closely related yet because of their size and scale are also different.

Can you discuss the role patterns play in some of your work? For example, I’m thinking about how you approached depicting the branching of trees vs the branching of butterfly starfish.

I often use patterns because that is what my eye is drawn to. I believe there is something in the patterns of nature that connect all things in nature. In the branching of trees and the branching of starfish I wasn’t solely considering each object individually, but rather how one pattern may resemble many other patterns present in nature.

Can we talk process for a moment? What is your process from conception to realization?

Process is very important in my work. I start by taking photos of my own. I will also look through books at the library that have scientific images. After I choose the subject I would like to focus on, I take time to study it. I coat a zinc plate with hard ground. I then use an etching needle to draw on the plate. I choose certain areas to add details to and abstract the image in some way. After I am satisfied with my drawing, I place the plate in acid. After the plate has been etched, I try inking the plate and running it through the press. After seeing the image it has produced, I then decide to add drawing to certain areas, use an aquatint to create tones or use open bite in certain areas. I place the plate into the acid multiple times until I am happy with the image. When the etching process is finished, I will ink the plate using an intaglio process. I then run colors that I mixed from lithography ink using a large roller over the plate. After that, I use paper that has been soaking in water to print the plate by running it through a press.

What are your thoughts on the SciArt genre in general? Is a label even necessary?

I enjoy being part of the SciArt genre. I hope it will continue to grow. I don’t know if the label is necessary but I hope it is a way for people to appreciate both art and science more.

Finally, what do you feel an artist’s role is in society, if any?

My hope is for artists to use their art to engage society on important issues. I also hope people in society look at art as an important factor in addressing these issues.

Brigitte Caramanna is an artist working in NYC. Her work has been shown at various shows across the city. A graduate of Adelphi University, she is currently a MFA candidate at George Mason University. Visit her website to see more of her work.

Images courtesy of the artist.

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