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  • Writer's pictureHaydn Dickenson


Updated: Apr 25, 2023

That really is “the question”, or at least one of them.

To me, framing is an intensely personal matter, so over the years I have usually opted not to frame paintings prior to sale; I prefer to let the client decide on a style that suits their home or workplace. Conveniently, as many of my sales are for export, a decision to leave the canvas unframed makes for easier, more secure and more cost-effective shipping for the customer. Furthermore, many buyers have expressed a wish to hang my canvases unframed, for a clean, modern look in the home.

ARABESQUE - Haydn Dickenson (2020) In client's home

HOPE IN DARK TIMES - Haydn Dickenson (2020), unframed, in private collection

If the client chooses, or if I am presenting work to a gallery, my framing style of choice is always a narrow inlay or 'floater' frame, often in silver though sometimes in white. Smaller examples of my work are very much enhanced by such a frame, contributing to a more substantial impact than if the painting is left bare.

A SCENT OF NIGHT - Haydn Dickenson (2023)

oil on canvas in silvered wood inlay frame, 23 x 23 cm, for sale

Despite usually opting for the unframed approach, I have always been fascinated by framing styles when imbibing the glories of art in galleries. Ever since I was young, I have craved absorption of the totality of a piece, paying as much attention to the frame as to the picture that it protects and showcases. I often go in close, peering at the massiveness of the wooden surrounds, the heavy, ancient hooks and chains that attach the painting to the wall (I'm sure I must be on security tapes somewhere, suspected of planning a heist!) I study the many layers and sections that go into the complex framing of priceless works of art – the rebates, the chamfering, the gilding, the hessian, all of which lead the eye inexorably into the painting.

I am attracted to the ornate swept frames and other substantial gilt structures that, on occasions, surround even a twentieth-century picture, the ornate mouldings simultaneously complementing and contrasting with the bold, progressive statement.

At the other end of the scale is the deliciously utilitarian, ultra-narrow bare wood framing style used around, for example, Jackson Pollock's NO 14 in the Tate Modern; spartan, barely there, understated, but nevertheless contributing significantly to the presentation of the oozing, flowing, darkly sensual painting.

NO 14 - Jackson Pollock (1951)

Upon examining the history of framing, we learn that the practice, in ancient times, was considered integral to the piece of art, allowing it to fit into its setting. Framing was first employed in ancient Greece and Egypt; one of the earliest existing examples is on an Egyptian tomb, circa AD 50-70.

Carved wooden frames have been in use in western churches since the twelfth century when they were treated as borders between parts of the décor, performing a functional role of division, rather than as a device to enhance the picture in a more worldly fashion. Indeed, the 'borders' often came first, with the art being added later after the required areas had been marked off.

During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the impact of wealth and status emerged, and with it the advent of lavish frames – a kind of renaissance 'bling'. Brazenly gilded framing appeared, utilising ivory together with ebony, walnut and other luxury woods, paving the way towards the magnificent classical framing styles, both sacred and secular, that are familiar to us in art through the ages. The frame, by now, had ascended into a status symbol for patrons, whether ecclesiastical or from the moneyed laity.

I will leave the last word to Frank Zappa, in characteristically uncompromising mood:

The most important thing in art is The Frame. For painting: literally; for other arts: figuratively-- because, without this humble appliance, you can't know where The Art stops and The Real World begins. You have to put a 'box' around it because otherwise, what is that shit on the wall?”

Maybe I should consider framing for my work more often!

Copyright Haydn Dickenson 2023


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