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This Is No Painting. It’s Melted Metal

Fabian Oefner loves working with unusual materials like motor oil and evaporated alcohol. He even drove a Ferrari into a wind tunnel and splattered it with neon paint. Now he’s photographing melted bismuth, a metal he prizes for its iridescence. “You get those colors, which are essentially the colors of the rainbow,” he says. His gorgeous images show such intense vibrancy that they could pass for a painting.

Fabian Oefner at work in his studio.

The Swiss photographer is as fixated with color as he is obsessed with unconventional materials. After seeing psychedelic-looking bismuth crystals in 2014, he ordered 200 pounds of the stuff. It sat in the basement of his Zurich studio for years alongside other random materials before he figured out just what to do with it.

Bismuth is silvery-white element not quite as dense as lead, and its various compounds are used in cosmetics, pigments, and the occasional pharmaceutical. Oefner started experimenting with the stuff in October. He melted a chunk of it on a hot plate and watched the liquid oxidize as it cooled, creating a striking spectrum of color. He scraped off a layer and saw the colors changed. He did that over and over, photographing the bismuth as it transformed, lighting it with a flash from the side. Oenfer made 2,000 images in two weeks.

The final series features seven photographs, each blurring the line with photography and painting. The random mix of colors and textures are fascinating. Ofener likens the method to abstract expressionist abstract painters like Jackson Pollock, who would dribble and splatter paint on his canvas. “It’s pushing the limit until you finally find something that’s new and intriguing,” he says. Not too bad for a hunk of metal.

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