Elizabeth Briel, Travel Artist

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Opium Cyanotype Part 2: the Barbarians

This summer I'm concocting experiments in my studio (er, my current bedroom with floor-to-ceiling windows), to take advantage of China's clear skies. These images have been brewing for quite some time. 

Years, actually.

They're the first part of a series on China and America that touch on what we go through as we grow up: sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll. Part 1 is the drugs. Opium, mostly. A drug which caused friction between our countries that lingers in the mind of many today. 

Here for the first time are some of my works-in-progress. Some I've rejected, but shots of them illustrate aspects of Cyanotype printing that give ideas for further experiments. Others, like the one below, will I think make the final cut.

Porcelain snuff bottles were small, meant to be held in the palm of your hand. They were in vogue in China during the Qing dynasty (when snuff boxes were popular in the West) and were miniature works of art. You can find reproductions at any tourist market in China and Hong Kong.

I painted the photochemicals at 1am, went to bed, then was up early the next morning to get a jump on the sun.

Laying out the text with Xuan paper:

Laying out the bottle

The bottle is four feet tall, and has a human presence. Phrases swirl around the inside, inspired by Deng Zhaoping's famous phrase: "If you open the windows for fresh air, some flies will come in" – flies have been replaced by ??, foreign barbarians.

Printed bottle (before ironing):

Bottle printed

detail of textured cotton:

Bottle cap detail

Cyanotyping is just the first step. Later I'll paint in highlights and shadows to enhance the contrast and even out the mid-tones.

It's been half a year since I last had the space to print Cyanotypes, during a residency at USM Malaysia. I'm excited to be printing again, and will begin part 2 of this series – paintings – during a residency in Yunnan this fall.

Find out more about Cyanotypes in this how-to post.

More images from this series in the Flickr set

Intro to the series.


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