In the autumn of 1985 I conceived the idea to engrave the twelve Animals of the Chinese Year. The animal form lends itself well to the medium of burin engraving on copper, where the natural action of the arm muscles, as it encounters the resistance of the copper, generates the elastic tension and beauty of the curvilinear engraved line. The repeated action of shorter strokes with the burin also gives rise to animal textures like fur and feathers.
My purpose was to use the animal form to trace the medium’s progression through the centuries, from its origins in the 15th century to the present day. For a brief early 'golden era,’ around the turn of the 16th century, artists like Martin Schongauer, Albrecht Dürer and Andrea Mantegna explored and celebrated the possibilites of intaglio engraving as a vehicle for original expression. Schongauer, for example, working in the German town of Colmar, produced engravings of impregnable dignity, with a pristine purity and clarity of line. In their almost abstract quality of line, some of his engravings seem to anticipate the non-representational use of the burin on copper in the 20th and 21st centuries. Dürer, by contrast, was the supreme virtuoso with the burin, and demonstrated how it could be used to record realistic details of the natural world.
Of all my engravings of the twelve Animals of the Chinese Year, it was the Rat which best demonstrated the way in which the repeated action of shorter strokes with the burin on copperplate gives rise to the fur-like texture of an animal's fur or hair coat. The Rat was not based on a life drawing but sprung fully formed directly from my imagination.
Steel burin engraving on copper plate and printed on Ruscombe Mill Margaux Estampe handmade paper