Elizabeth Briel, Travel Artist

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Luscious Lead White

July 23rd, 2018

Though now mostly unavailable within the EU, Lead or Cremnitz White has been used by painters for centuries. It killed Caravaggio and was a crucual ingredient in Lucien Freud's impasto and flesh tones. Beloved by many painters for its thick consistency and buttery feel as you stroke it onto canvas, Lead or Flake White (lead with zinc) has been an important part of a classic palette.

Due to health concerns and an indifference to the subtleties of white hues, I'd never used it. But for this project it was important that every ingredient have meaning.  Lead brings to mind bullets, poisoned water in Michigan and Hong Kong housing projects, the sweet taste of house paint hazardous to children, still endemic in America's cities.




Passenger on the way to Twin Peaks, one of San Francisco's steepest bus routes. Dramatic hills make architectural geometry into extreme angles

After two weeks of experimention with paint-making and exploring the eccentricities of Shotwell's Combat Paper, I primed the paper with handmade lapis lazuli acrylic then began painting with Flake White. Its lead is mixed with zinc to cool the hue, more compatible with blue tones.

On a light surface you establish the darks: On a midtone I establish the lightest areas, feeling out variant shades of white while glazing it over the lapis blue shades of Ultramarine Ash and Payne's Grey. These photos show just the first layer, mapping out space and contrast. Afterwards small areas of bone black and pure Fra Angelico lapis will be added.



Gate to a bookstore that managed to survive by moving away from the neighborhood it helped gentrify





Turning artwork upside down to look for irregularities. Painting of interior of The Homestead, a structure that survived the 1906 fire





First stage of painting the interlocking shapes between Muni wires at Castro & Market


As the works multiply I am drawn increasingly to abstraction, to looking at the sky and water and searching for patterns in this city you see nowhere else in the world. These works are soft and still unformed and will remain so until I step back and finish them in Hong Kong later this year. 

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Painting With Fra Angelico

July 10th, 2018

They were already there when I arrived at my studio: eight jars of mysterious blue powders.


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The powders were different grades of lapis lazuli, ranging in shades from neutral Payne's Grey to the most brilliant blue available to western painters until the 19th century: Fra Angelico Blue, which required a painstaking process to purify


Fra Angelico's Virgin of Humility, 1435-45,Tempera on panel. via True Restoration

Medieval artists would glaze the purest blues over cheaper hues to maximize the precious pigment. Its name was Ultramarine, since for thousands of years the finest lapis has come over the sea from Afghan mines.

I wanted to use paints like these, but the purest forms aren't available. So this summer in my studio, I learned how to make them.


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Grinding glass with a handmade muller from Russia. The largest, heaviest grade is strongest and for me the most versatile.


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Mixing a batch of acrylic paint. Like fresco it should all be used in one session


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Paint patterns on glass can be mesmerizing

These paints will make my most personal series yet: examining where I come from, and an ambivalent relationship with my home country. More soon.

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San Francisco Studio

June 16th, 2018

San Francisco studio

Above an experimental artspace and restaurant in San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood are art studios like this one. It's where I'll be spending most days this July, making paints from the ash of semiprecious stones, mixing them with spike lavender (turpentine substitute) and tree balsam. Painting onto thick paper made from military uniforms

Feel free to stop by if you're in the area, message art@ebriel.com

Or visit Image Flow Gallery's opening 14th July in Mill Valley (Marin), where I'll be present at our Alternative Process Photography exhibition. 

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Chinese Blueprints

June 13th, 2018








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Often uniqueness lies in mistakes, in physical strain, or the unexpected.

One square cm of my original sharks fin Cyanotype contains traces of Chinese typography: fragments from previous prints I'd made with text from articles describing the Chinese government's clumsy attempts to cover up pollution. As if pretending the ghastly air we breathed in Beijing didn't exist could make the skies turn an APEC Blue. Letters laser-printed on my acetate negatives had once fused to the oversized plastic sheets I cover the artwork with, weighing it down to prevent prints from blowing away outside. A process visible in this video.

This calibrated 300dpi scan is even more precise than most people's eyes, including my own. It shows indentations where my fingernails pressed into the handmade paper.


Thanks to Danny Chau of Chau Digital for scanning both the 1x2m Typhoon prints, and reproducing the original blues (there are many) to perfection 

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Slices of Memories

May 29th, 2018



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Artists can never predict what materials will inspire them.

These green and brown squares are sliced from a block of Aleppo soap I bought as a brush cleaner. The world's oldest soap with a reputed history of 4000 years, it's handmade of pure olive and laurel oils near the Syrian city of Aleppo.

When the soap arrived a few weeks ago it smelled so good I wanted to hold it tight. The fragrance brought up memories I didn't know I'd kept: nights hand-washing clothes in a Brooklyn sink, the French boyfriend who smelled of olive soap he used in his hair.

The soap's slices show its original olive green, and the oxidized exterior after a year's drying. They remind me of the vibrant pixellation of Chuck Close's paintings, of irregular mosaics in Mediterranean hues, the colors of the earth and trees in the place it was made.

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Painting Climate Change

May 15th, 2018



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As a meteorologist told me devastating stories of climate change and showed me the graphs to prove it, I followed the shape of the data and to me these shapes looked like landscapes. They haunted me.

So I began painting Icescapes, silhouettes of rocky forms from graphs documenting climate change. This section compares the world's 2 biggest polluters' (US – right & China – left) use of coal over the past century. Once we added other fuel sources like natural gas, etc the US section roughly equaled China's.

I've begun a collaboration with programmers and a music producer to create algorithmic music from the data, for a sonification and visualization of climate change

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Cruel Luxuries 2: Taipei

April 6th, 2018

My recent residency at Treasure Hill Artist Village culminated in an exhibition. This incarnation incorporated 20 meters of silk printed with sharks fins, music from the last castrato opera singer (recorded in 1902), and images from my father's life as a young Catholic priest

Cruel Luxuries – A work-in-progress by Elizabeth Briel
Exhibition on Saturday April 7 and Sunday April 8, 10am – 6pm
Performance Saturday April 7, 4pm
Artists talk Sunday April 8, 4pm

Upper Ray Gallery No. 9
Treasure Hill Artists Village
No. 2, Alley 14, Lane 230, Section 3, Tingzhou Road
Taipei, Taiwan






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Cruel Luxuries in South Island Arts District

March 22nd, 2018

A recent exhibition was an opportunity to share Cruel Luxuries in a new context



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Installing the artwork in a warehouse in Wong Chuk Hang, HK's South Island Arts District



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The design is brought alive as visitors pass by, one young viewer said it gave him "waves of sorrow"



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Cruel Luxuries at Blue Lotus Gallery

December 12th, 2017

Cruel Luxuries performance @ Cheung Chau Wave

Photo by Jin Heng

This Saturday 16th December you're welcome to come by Blue Lotus Gallery at 4pm for an encounter with Cruel Luxuries.

Each time is an experiment, with more layers of sound and material.

More info here

Hope to see you there.

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Cruel Luxuries Hong Kong [beta]

December 2nd, 2017


Photo by Marcel Hejinen

On 1st and 2nd December, the Cheung Chau Wave festival hosted the first stage of my project Cruel Luxuries.

It's an exploration of the cruelty behind many of humanity's highest or luxurious art forms, from large (the Pyramids) to small (cochineal to produce organic red dye). For this project, I've chosen to incorporate several aspects:

* Silk created by worms that, typically, die in silk production

* Silhouettes of sharks fins which are often cruelly harvested – Hong Kong is where half the world's fins are traded

* The exquisite, eerie tones produced by castrati singers (a practice once implicitly encouraged by the Catholic Church in Italy where women were not allowed to sing in churches), singers who had operas written especially for them by some of Western classical music's famous composers like Handel, and who impacted western opera in ways that continue today

A reflection on the duality of beauty and its opposite, which are often simultaneously present in art and culture worldwide. Eventually Cruel Luxuries will consist of approx 100sqm silk printed with the sharks fin design, exhibited in the US and elsewhere, but at this stage the project is still at its essence. I was very happy to share it with Hong Kong and the Cheung Chau community in its earliest form.

The installation / performance included a total of 15 meters of Suzhou silk printed with sharks fins from my Typhoon Cyanotype series


Photo by Michael Wolf

The wrapping was inspired by this painting by Surrealist artist Remedios Varo (Encuentro, 1959)


And performed a dialogue with music by the only castrato singer ever recorded, Alessandro Moreschi 

There were two performances:

* Fri 1st December, Cheung Chau Wave's opening night in collaboration with the exhibition of architect / photographer Tugo Chen

* Saturday, Kam Yun beach, a short walk from the pier on Cheung Chau.

Selected photos:


Photo by Sarah Greene









Elizabeth Briel performing

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Video by Sarah Greene for Cheung Chau Wave


Photo by Michael Wolf


Photo by Jin Heng for Cheung Chau Wave

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