Latest art trend revives centuries old photographic technique

Young South African artist Chloe Obermeyer is standing out from her contemporary peers through the use of an unusual 174-year-old photographic printing process called cyanotype, and using the technique to creative unique artworks with her own distinctive twist.

Obermeyer, who is a recent graduate of the Michaelis School of Fine Art, creates once-off artworks in a distinctive blue which portray her fascination with the natural world, especially the ocean.

I am intrigued by nature’s ability to perplex scientific conclusions and its tendency to inspire human imagination and fiction,” says Obermeyer. “This outlook was sparked during my graduate research, which was focused on creating an exhibition inspired by the serendipitous discovery of Coelacanths in Southern African waters. Currently, my works have often become a means of navigating my interest in Southern Africa’s oceans. I often touch on ideas surrounding scientific discovery, wonder and environmental concern.”

The process explained
Making a cyanotype involves placing a negative image — which could be an item or photographic negative
on treated paper or fabric. After a light sensitive solution is brushed on, the paper is placed under ultraviolet light, or in direct sun, to develop.

Basically, two light sensitive solutions are mixed together in a 1:1 ratio to form a work chemistry. This is then painted onto a surface such as paper or fabric and then left to dry in a place that contains no UV light. Once the surface is dry, I arrange the chosen items above it in a composition that is to my liking. If I am working with a printed photographic negative, I will make use of a glass pane to add pressure so that I can get accurate prints. This set-up is done in a UV safe environment before I move the whole thing outside into a bright, sunny spot where it can be exposed to UV radiation from the sun. After the print has been exposed, it is rinsed and developed in water followed by a hydrogen peroxide bath to bring out the rich blue,” explains Obermeyer.

The history of cyanotypes
The cyanotype process — from the Greek “cyan”, or “dark-blue impression” was invented around 1842 by the British astronomer and chemist John Frederick Herschel. Anna Atkins, considered by many to be the first female photographer and the first person to create a book of photo-based images, blended science and art in botanical cyanotypes, starting in the 1840s.

A long dormant technique, cyanotypes started to reappear in the 1960’s, when people started to be interested in reviving old photographic processes. Cyanotypes are both unusual and trendy at the same time. “It almost has a sort of alternative, cult following, especially with contemporary artists overseas,” says Obermeyer.

Obermeyer’s work is exhibited at The Gallery in Riebeek Kasteel. Owner and curator Astrid McLeod says that she is passionate about representing the young graduate artists but is particularly impressed by the unique nature of Obermeyer’s cyanotypes.

Whilst the technique itself, and the process of applying it to art, is not unique, it is not commonly seen in South Africa and Chloe’s work stands out from others not only because of its unusual nature but also its appealing content portrayed in an undeniably alluring deep blue.”

McLeod goes on to explain that Obermeyer is one of the participating artists in an upcoming exhibition entitled “In With The New” where artists have been invited to submit an artwork which puts their own contemporary spin onto classic paintings and sculptures which stand in art museums around the world. “Obermeyer has chosen Gustav Klimt as her inspiration for the exhibition, which opens on 11 August at The Gallery and runs until the end of September.”

For more information or to view some of Obermeyers work for sale please contact Astrid on 083 6533 697.

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