Elizabeth Briel, Travel Artist


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Printing in the Rain

Rinsing in the Rain
Rinsing Cyanotype prints in monsoon rain

Prints made in a rickety studio.

Every morning I climb wooden stairs to the rooftop and print cyanotypes for a patient collector, and for a series I’m sending around the world. Sweat runs down my neck. Pollution claws at the back of my throat. I bake under the hot tin roof as my prints develop in the sun.

Bangkok was once a swampy maze of canals raging with annual typhoid outbreaks, and in our neighborhood we still have more than our share of mosquitoes. The housekeeper has planted cockroach bait, and instead of skittering away into open drainage pipes as they usually do, fat cockroaches are dying at my feet every time I turn the corner.

Working artists aren’t typical tourists.

I arrived here several months ago with a set budget and specific projects to complete — working here at the hottest time of year is no holiday. I chose to come here in February to be available for projects and meetings that didn’t materialize – but other, more interesting ones did.

The Artists Place – where I’m living and working – ticks all the boxes: it’s a third the price of a studio in Sydney, has bedrooms I use as darkrooms and plenty of sunny space to expose my prints, and best of all, my blue splatters don’t show up in its showers.

But I’m escaping for a week.

I’ve been feeling trapped in this flat town since my return from Mae Salong. It’s not just the sharpened bamboo sticks and tire barricades of the Red Shirt protesters, who have now taken over even more intersections of this city. It’s the neighbors’ gossip that I’m sleeping with an Irishman because he and I had an evening beer, the Australian down the road who insists my husband is having an affair because I’ve left him alone with no children, and the claustrophobia of smelling the toilets down the hall every time I open my door.

I’m sending off documents and prints to estate agents and collectors, then headed south for the week to focus on my book and breathe some fresh air.

Desperate for green.

There is a single patch of green in my neighborhood. Every time I pass it on the way home from the BTS skytrain I pause and stare at it. Hungrily. Ours is a neighborhood of concrete and handmade houses. They’re atmospheric but most tourists wouldn’t dream of staying in a house like The Artists Place. It’s too hot here, and there are too many six-legged neighbors.

The unconventional DIY building methods of the owner Charlee, who prefers the kind of jerry-rigged construction you’ll see in family homes all over Southeast Asia, have resulted in some quirks: exposed blue pipes, dusty plastic skylights, black walls and windows.

Today I felt forlorn as the rain cut short my printing session. The wind was wild and blew off the week’s pollution. I moved my last two prints under the rooftop where they could still get some UV rays, and trudged downstairs to rinse the rest.

Water poured into the house and out of the last shower stall and soaked the floor. It drained into the gutters and I looked up as the skylight shed buckets of monsoon rain. It was fresh and cool and free.

So I placed my prints under it and let the rainwater rinse off my prints, for a very special kind of blue.

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