FRAMING: What is gained; what is lost?

I should preface my remarks by saying that my take on art is not scholarly but rather idiosyncratic. I am more intrigued with the psychological subtext of portraiture. Because of this character flaw, I do not read art criticism or artists’ statements. Rightly or wrongly, I feel they get in the way of my viewing pleasure. The only story I am really interested in is MY story.

     Accompanying this post are two portraits done by the very talented, Gillian Iles. I first encountered Gillian at the City Hall Outdoor Art Show many years ago and have followed her career. The paintings are of similar subjects, two women swimming in a pool, but it is the framing or lack of framing that I want to write about.

     The picture without the frame challenges the viewer to imagine a context. Who is this woman? She is confident and alert. Where is she? What is she looking at? Is she in a time trial and checking her results? I can imagine the smell of the chlorine and hear the slap of water against the sides of the pool. Perhaps, there is the sound of cheering? Is the swimmer reaching to across a swim lane to congratulate a competitor? The viewer’s imagination can definitely be brought into play because a past, present, and future can be inferred.

     For me, the painting with the frame brings a completely different set of variables into play. The frame immediately limits the viewer’s focus, real or imagined, to that of the woman. Questions of context don’t apply here. The dripping water accentuates the sagging, aging flesh of the woman. Her advanced years and vulnerability are emphasized. The mottled, brown frame highlights the mottled flesh. Age spots are both in the frame and in the image. The frame prevents the viewer from escaping the physicality of that old woman. She is swimming now but for how long?

     So, ladies and gentlemen, to frame or not to frame is a worthwhile question to ask of yourselves and your framers.  But, we all know what the framers are going to advise, don’t we?

Tom Maunder


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