In our show for Paul Roehl this fall, we featured this painting, an oil on canvas called “Acheron” (24″ x 48″). But it wasn’t framed—unless you regard as a frame the pine lattice that painters wisely attach to the edges of their stretched canvases to protect the vulnerable fabric edges. Those strips are justifiable in serving the first and most important function of a frame: to protect the picture. But there is much else we require of frames; on that below. In any case, I became enchanted by this work, and decided that for Beloved California V we’d do it justice by having Trevor Davis design and make a proper frame for it.
You can compare “Acheron” here at right, shown “before” in the minimal strip frame, with the “after,” below, in our wider, more substantial frame. The comparison illustrates pretty well the transformative effect of what we might call, to distinguish it from mere slats, an architectural frame on a picture.
The frame is a cassetta in stained quartersawn white oak. The profile is 4-1/4″ wide on the top and bottom and 1/2″ wider on the sides, thus enhancing the strongly horizontal proportions. The difference in width is in the flat, which has mortise-and-tenon joints. The inner and outer mitered moldings, both carved (in contrast to the smooth flat), also echo each other in their cushion form canting in toward the painting. The back of the cap is cut in with a deep cove which sweeps outward, projecting beyond the outside of the cap’s face. Scroll down to see a gallery of photos of Trevor making the frame, and Sam finishing it.
Protection and Prospect—
Comparing the effect of “Acheron” unframed to its effect in a substantial architectural frame illustrates not only the most satisfying reward of framing, but the most important lesson I’ve learned about the art of the frame. And it’s a lesson I got from the painter of “Acheron,” Paul Roehl. In a lecture Paul gave at the gallery in February 2017 called “Beyond Representation: The Poetic Landscape,” Professor Roehl (who’s long taught Art History at DeAnza College) explained a concept called “protection and prospect.” He described this idea as a compositional device landscape painters have often used, arranging the picture’s perspective to include a place of relative safety and shelter in the foreground (suggesting where the viewer is), against a wider and more wild and rugged distant land beyond. This arrangement seems to evoke a visceral effect in the viewer, tapping into two complementary primal human needs: security in our own particular place in the world—”protection“—along with a more comprehensive view of things and the sense of life’s possibilities—”prospect.” After writing about it in a blog post here, I followed up with the post here, on my epiphany when applying “protection and prospect” to not just the picture but its immediate architectural setting, the frame, to finally grasp the reason for that magical, transformational effect the right frame—a suitably architectural frame—has on the picture.
For all my years in framing, the true nature of that effect—that great reward for my work—had remained a mystery to me. I owe Paul a debt of gratitude for the key to solving that mystery.