Thursday, January 21, 2016

To frame or not to frame?

Before the last exhibit I held in my city last year the curator advised me to bring the paintings unframed. I was quite surprised by the advice since I have several reusable frames which I had used for previous exhibits and I can get very obsessive when trying to determine which frame is the best fit for a painting. My previous experiences though were all group exhibits in which each artist brought four or five paintings at most and it was expected that there would be no overall visual consistency (but the show usually has a theme which connects the wildly different works), but this one was a two artists exhibit to which I brought nine paintings and it was held in an estabilished gallery so the situation was different.

There are good reasons to avoid frames in an exhibit like that:
  • It keeps the cost in check. Even employing reusable frames (which I do ) having ten or twenty paintings framed at the same time would be crazy expensive.
  • It makes the exhibit more consistent. The painting styles may be very different but that’s not as distracting as very different framing choices.
  • The frame doesn’t steal attention from the painting. A well chosen frame can make even a mediocre painting look good, but obviously that’s not something the artist himself should do. The painting should hold well on its own merit.
  • Choosing a proper frame is difficult and the artist might be no good at it. In fact I have made some pretty terrible framing choices in the past. Sometimes you can’t tell for sure until you actually see the painting inside the frame.
  • Some art galleries (like the one in which I had the exhibit) have a very barebone style and a painting with an elaborate frame would look gaudy and out of place there, even though the same painting with the same frame might look great in a living room.
  • The other artist holding the exhibit with me has a minimalist style and works with huge canvas sizes. The kind of frames I like the most (see the photo above) would not work for that style and size.

On the other hand the idea of exhibiting my paintings unframed bothers me a bit. My style is rooted in traditional realism and elaborate frames are an integral part of the aesthetic I pursue, down to the fact that some rules of classical composition almost assume the presence of a frame neatly separating the painting from the surrounding space and stressing the rectangular shape of the canvas.

So far my customers have made framing choices which I like a lot, as shown in the photos above and below. Frames like these are fitting choices for much “imaginative realist” art (as James Gurney dubbed it).

This blog post by Petar Meseldžija shows photos of some impressive private collections:
(Many similar examples can be found by googling for Illuxcon photos.)
Of course it could be argued that the arrangement of those collections reflects the owner’s taste or the way those paintings are marketed rather than the artist’s vision. To me the most convincing among the points I listed above is that a painting should ideally “work” on its own merit, even in a physical vacuum. Yet I do think about possible framing when I make a painting, so that is part of my vision for the picture too.

In the end I’ll follow the advice when it comes to art gallery shows, but I think that in other venues such as conventions I’ll keep employing and suggesting frames for my work. After all they are different venues with different audience and different goals.

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