Monday, February 27, 2012

Framing a Morrisseau (Part I)

~ As published on the Green Cottage Gallery's Blog
   /Shakespeare, Ontario CANADA/

Genuine Norval Morrisseau painting on canvas
/Click on image to Enlarge/ 

As a framer, I usually do my design work on the spot. It is a collaborative effort between myself and the client as we figure out how best to reconcile their wants and needs to the requirements of the piece and still make a finished whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. I really do enjoy that process of realizing, through discussion with the customer, what will work for them and still fit within their budget, style or space restrictions. It’s like a really good session of brainstorming, ideas get volleyed back and forth and are refined down to a final design. Fun though that process can be, it can also be very freeing to work entirely on my own.

We have collected a severely esoteric assortment of art, over the years and I’ve been working on getting many of them framed and ready to go into the gallery. One of the ones that I’ve been thinking for some time about how best to show it off is this oil by the great Canadian artist, Norval Morrisseau. (the photo is of the unstretched canvas) I very much wanted to create a frame that would both respect the importance of the piece and acknowledge its vibrancy and strength but not restrict its decor options.

Starting finish of inner frame
/Click on image to Enlage/

The first part of framing the oil was to stretch it. Morrisseau had clearly painted it while it was on a stretcher and then taken if off. (probably to make it easier to store) The image goes right to the edges and there was very little salvage on the sides. I made a new stretcher for the piece and actually made it slightly larger than the one it would have been mounted on while being painted. The reason for that is almost all frames have have a lip or rabbet that holds the glass/mat/art/backing sandwich in place or, in this case, the stretched piece. It also covers between 1/8 and ¼ of an inch in from the sides. By making the stretcher larger (even though it make the stretching a bit more difficult) I was able to make sure that more of the actual painting is shown.

As for the actual frame, I wasn’t able to find a single molding that I thought really showed it off to it’s best advantage. There is a roughness to it, as well as the vibrant colours that had to be considered. In the end, I decided to create my own molding by combining, or stacking, three different ones. The innermost frame was also one that needed a change to it’s finish. I wanted an accent along the inner edge, and the surface texture of this molding was perfect, if not the colour. It was also exactly the width I wanted. (a little under an inch) I cut and joined it and then refinished it with a semi-matte black to create the perfect inner liner!

There is a long tradition of using fabric wrapped liners to give paintings on canvas and board the same visual room around them that a mat provides.

Morrisseau painting in triple stacked frame
/Click on image to Enlage/

While I agree that the look can often work, I’ve never been fond of them. The big problem I have is that the fabric will (note I said “will” not “can” because, unless it is fully in-closed dirt will happen!) get dirty as time goes by. Some are more resistant than others and choosing the right colour can also help, but I prefer to avoid the whole issue, if I can. The way I did it on this piece was to use a wood molding in the same position that a liner would sit. The molding has an almost barn-wash finish that is a slightly darker grey than the grey of the painting and has a small, informal silver accent on the inside edge. The shape is smooth and slopes down in the standard liner style.

Morrisseau frame, close-up of molding
/Click on image to Enlage/

The outer frame is actually made from 100 year old reclaimed wood, complete with variations and wood-worm holes! The colour is a dark, slightly yellowish green that also ties directly to one of the greens in the artwork. It has a beeswax finish that is presently somewhat polished. All of the moldings used to create this unique frame have simple lines and somewhat rustic finishes that tie back to painting so they compliment it but are not too formal. It is a substantial frame, that properly showcases this vibrancy of the work, but isn’t fussy and, I feel, that the textures and visibly aged wood acknowledge the spirits of nature and history, from which Norval Morrisseau drew his inspiration.

Source: Green Cottage Gallery's Blog, Shakespeare, Ontario
              /Used with permission/

* The acrylic painting on canvas in this post: © c. 1970's Norval Morrisseau /Private Collection/

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