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Cyanotype Interview: The Development of Art

Harrison, future RJSA architect and cutest grandson ever.

Passion and soul are essential for deriving any genre of art. As architects, our appreciation for the effort Jessica Maffia put into our entryway piece is insurmountable. We asked her to chat about it and this is what she said:

What is cyanotype and why did you pick it?

Cyanotype is an alternative photography process invented in the 1840s. Anna Atkins is the first artist to have used it and I find her botanical imagery deeply inspiring. The cyanotype process involves mixing two chemicals: ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide. The printing surface is then coated with the mixture and set to dry in darkness. In this case, I used a pretreated mural-sized cotton fabric. I printed imagery of the various RJSA projects onto acetate (transparent plastic paper) as well as other imagery that references the work RJSA does including roof maintenance and thermal surveys. I laid the images onto the cotton fabric at night and then exposed it to the sun in the morning which turned the fabric a deep cyan blue. Wherever the imagery was dark or opaque, the sun could not penetrate and the form remained white. I chose this process because it is how blueprints used to be made- an appropriate reference to architecture generally.

How long does the process take?

The creative process took several months as I marinated on the composition and worked out some of the technical challenges of manipulating a large work that involved so many small pieces. The exposure itself took 18 minutes.

What RJSA project most inspired you?

I was equally inspired by the exquisite detail in the historical facades of projects such as 334 E. 96th street and 170 Broadway NYC as I was in the repetitive geometry of Rochdale Village and Co-op City.

Jessica Maffia hanging her customized piece.

What did you want to evoke in your viewer from this piece?

I wanted to disrupt a standard reading of the built environment by complicating the perspective; this piece can be viewed from all four sides. I was also hoping to evoke a surreal sense of the peaceful chaos of the city. Towards that end, I juxtaposed realistic imagery with abstracted bubbles of brick and floating windows.


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