Elizabeth Briel, Travel Artist


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Leftovers of an Old Life

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Slides of my artwork, old photos and clothes fill the room

This week I’ve been sifting through photos and sorting through my negatives, tossing out old clothes and turning over badly-written pages from the past. Seventeen little boxes from America have arrived. Mom’s moving house and apparently my memories got in the way: After 6+ years of life in Asia and down here at the bottom of the world (Sydney), it’s time to bring past and present together before moving on to the next step.

The clothes I pulled out of the boxes still fit, but I’m giving most of them away. In Asia I’ve had access to high-quality materials and tailors, and won’t settle for synthetics and unflattering lines like I did before. The art books indicate how my tastes have changed: from the northern European/Italian work I grew up with, to the globalization of art in the 21st century, particularly with Chinese/Southeast Asian influences.

We forget more than we can ever remember. And a good thing, too. Much of what was in those boxes I’ve since thrown away, after glancing through pages of badly-written teenage meditations on identity and belonging, superficiality and selfhood.  There are some personality traits I struggle with now that were in evidence back then, too: my quick critical tongue, my lack of tolerance for people I respect who can’t pay their rent, my tendency to scheme obsessively for the future.

A professional artists’ adage is: don’t let any of your mediocre work survive. It will dilute your good work. Paint over it, rip it up, burn it, eat it, do whatever you have to do to ensure it doesn’t make it out of the studio and into the hands of detractors or collectors. Destroy all of it that doesn’t match your standards. Since I got those boxes I’ve been purging the past of my most trite journal pages and worst drawings. [I will undoubtedly make more mediocre pieces.]

Reviewing my older artwork and words with a more critical eye I see the foundations of what I’m doing today. I am reminded that this convoluted path I’ve taken has themes to it. And I’m living them now. At the time, all I had to keep me going was belief that my hard work would get me somewhere better than I was, that I could see some of the places I’d read about, like Prague and Montreal and Marrakesh. I wanted to paint in dusty Left Bank studios and walk the Bronte moors.   Now I’ve reached goals I thought would be impossible, my dreams have expanded and it’s going to take more work than ever to get to where I want to go next.

I’ve put up some art and travel photos from the Nineties and the Noughties on Flickr here.

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One Response to Leftovers of an Old Life

  1. Oh gosh, sifting through memories and deciding what to keep and what to throw away. After moving over 15 times in the last 2 years, thinking about this puts me on edge and makes my hands shake. We have things in storage all over the world because all three of us are terrible pack rats. I need to work on being more mature and getting rid of things that don’t fit my life anymore, even if they are sentimental. I’ve lost a lot, but there are so many things I’m desperately clinging to.

    “Paint over it, rip it up, burn it, eat it, do whatever you have to do to” to get rid of low-quality work as an artist. Good advice.

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