When travelling as a girl with my dad to workshops and demos, I noticed that he always brought a frame. At points throughout the painting process, he’d clip in the canvas and place it on a secondary easel, a few meters from where he’d set up. The idea was to get the composition stopped and distance the maker from his object. In this sliver of detachment, problems could be addressed, decisions made and the potential treasure imagined.
Current trends have anointed a certain kind of painting presentation and made it all but ubiquitous. “Gallery wrap” is a canvas stretched 3 or 4 inches deep that shows the edge wrapped around to the underside of its support. The thicker stretchers can save money on frames, are light and sturdy and help the works take on a sculptural gravitas. Modern looking, the gallery-wraps distinguish themselves as “not your father’s Oldsmobile.”
The birth of the unframed painting happened sometime during the last century — think Jean Michel Basquiat’s wonky, hand-built stretchers and the unpolished intimacy they evoke. If process and hand-hewn magic are part of art’s connection, contemporary artists have embraced a painting’s support structure as evidence of authenticity. Often large-scale, gallery-wraps hang fresh like low-relief archival objects. Side drips, edge folds, staples and nail heads are a personal hint to their realness.
The downside of the gallery-wrap’s popularity is its popularity. This closeness and romance — bushwhacked by “unframing” originators — has been perverted by second and third generation facsimile-makers. Go to IKEA or the local discount home store and you’ll find gallery-wrapped giclee canvas prints: plasticized semi-abstracts, robotic florals, Eiffel Towers and text tropes. Go to the local art school and find Jean Michel’s turbulent imitators, deep in the weeds en route to potential innovation. Yesteryear’s flea market find — a little brown bucolic scene made precious in a gilded moulding — has been replaced by huge gallery-wrapped moderns with scuffed edges. Is it time to rethink framing?
Traditionalists will tell you that good framing never went out of style – a testament to all the framing shops in business today. Paintings are honoured by their frames. Clipped in, a breath is taken as a little distance transforms the painting into a covetable “other.” The work is its own new thing — a graceful object of fascination born to surpass its beginnings in the studio.
PS: “I start a picture and I finish it.” (Jean-Michel Basquiat)
Esoterica: When shopping for a frame, try local. Classic galleries haven’t blinked at the ebb and flow of frame fashions and employ skilled professionals who can customize, assemble and finish. If you’re buying in bulk for your studio, they can make recommendations for that, too. Or go vintage. Or make your own. Try a few styles and see your work transformed, overshadowed, wallflowered, taste-made or elevated. “I don’t listen to what art critics say. I don’t know anybody who needs a critic to find out what art is.” (Jean Michel Basquiat)
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“So soon as a fashion is universal, it is out of date.” (Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach)