Framing Kevin Courter in Compound Polyptych

A customer recently commissioned Kevin Courter to paint three cottages on his rural northern California property, then had us frame the three 8 x 10’s. Here it is:

The idea was to create a frame alive to the soft edges as well as architectural subject matter. Given the vernacular cottages, we had to keep it simple but still worthy of the great admiration, felt by both painter and patron, of these charming structures in their locale, and all the wealth of memories and meaning they hold for the family that’s enjoyed them. The over all flat form of the profile was felt suitable to the relatively shallow depth of field and basically flat landscape populated by vertical trees, as well as the strong horizontal composition of the whole piece. It’s a very simple flat with a cap molding, all the profiling done with a 1/8″ radius.

The flat inner, or sight, edge of the frame made sense in terms of the frame construction, lending itself well to the dividers.

Polyptychs are interesting in part because of the trick of creating unity out of distinct parts. Japanese printmakers have done a lot with this idea. As you can see in this example from my portfolio, while the three panels create a whole scene, compositionally each panel also stands on its own.

We chose quartersawn white oak for its wild, rustic quality and stained it Medieval Oak which matches the burnt umber used in the shadows. While the frame thus has an overall shadow quality to spotlight the painting, the wonderful play of sunlight in Kevin’s pictures prompted our choice of a gilt oak slip to surround each panel. So the frame carries out the interplay of light and shadow that makes these images so appealing, but is on balance a shadow presence around the picture.

The metal plate at the bottom of the frame is engraved with the title of the piece, “My Three Sons,” and Kevin’s name.

“Kevin Courter: From Dusk to Dawn” is posted

The last of Kevin Courter‘s paintings for his upcoming show, “From Dusk to Dawn,” is in, and it’s a great example of a theme he’s been having a lot of fun with for the last few months. This is called “Evening’s Solitude,” and it’s 8 x 16. The frame, No. 1.4 CV, is one we use often, as it’s so versatile, simple and effective.

Hope you’ll put the show on your calendar. It opens Saturday, February 26, with a reception for the artist from 4 to 6 in the evening.

Framing Kevin Courter’s “Cradled Moon”

Enjoyed framing this 12″ x 14″ oil for Kevin Courter, now at New Masters Gallery in Carmel. Chose walnut for its color (used a light stain to get the harmony just right) and because it’s good for carving. Chose a flat profile, since it’s a flat composition, but at the sight edge it’s got a very subtle convex, or ovolo, form echoing the form of the treetops cradling the moon. The frame similarly cradles the painting. The carved pattern takes its cue from the crescent moon and the branches. The narrow slip with lemon gold leaf matches the moon.

Framing Kevin Courter’s “Soaring Skies”

Just finished framing this wonderful Kevin Courter oil on linen, 20″ x 16″, titled “Soaring Skies.” I wanted the frame to extend the perspective with the right form and amount of line work, but keeping it simple and rustic in spirit. The color came out of the shadows in the grasses. Shadows are frequently a good source for frame color, helping the frame remain subordinate to the painting. The bright sunlight off the clouds suggested the gilt slip.

The painting is headed to New Masters Gallery in Carmel.

Framing Paintings—I: Kevin Courter’s “Colusa Sunset”

“All true art is praise,” as John Ruskin said, getting right at the heart of picture-making (and blowing the top off a lot of pretentious blather about art, too). Last fall Kevin Courter brought in this work of praise, a 16″ x 20″ oil on linen, less than 2 weeks before our show, “A Heaven in the Eye” was to open. It’s a stunner, as you can see, and to a frame-maker an inspiration. My enthusiasm and the extra focus imposed by the deadline spurred me to produce one of my favorite recent pieces.

Kevin says this is near Gray Lodge Wildlife Area off I-5 in Colusa County — a place I haven’t been to but which a number of customers praised to the skies (how else to say it?) for the astonishingly huge flocks of geese and rare species to be seen there. It’s a place where you can feel as though bird life is as strong as ever; as if life everlasting still means something (as it surely does, after all); as if we can still witness nature’s eternal beauty (which we can). It’s some place to praise.

Most of the framing we do is more restrained, simple, frank. But one thing a frame legitimately does is sustain and amplify the praise the picture has started, and this praise can be as lavish as you like, so long as the frame remains subordinate to the picture and obeys the first law of the universe: the law of help. Or, to borrow William Morris’s words, “all this is not luxury, if it be done for beauty’s sake, and not for show.”

There’s a very important distinction between this use of decorative treatment to enhance a painting and the illegitimate praise the frame has frequently been enlisted to lavish on, not the subject of the picture but the picture itself—the picture as trophy, as symbol of status and wealth. In this role the frame is often oddly blind to the character of the picture. Is a slick gold frame ever well-suited to a painting of a cow or a weather-beaten barn—or a muddy river bank? That’s the frame as unflattering flatterer and sycophant, not as friendly home or accompanist.

The frame’s praise of nature begins with suitable materials, and this was a beautiful piece of American Black walnut, with rich native color (a little stain was used to get the color harmony just right) and a bit of interest in the grain but still even and workable for carving. I chose walnut for the cool brown native color and the tight grain which is better for detailed carving. Also, our most frequently used wood, quartersawn oak, has strong figure that can compete with this more refined kind of carving.

It’s hard to take frame designs to this level on smaller or more impressionistic or on tonally subdued paintings. But a work as strong as this one leaves room for the frame-maker to be more free. This piece was large enough, had enough tonal power, and was simply so reverential in spirit that it called for a more elaborate frame. It is also detailed and highly rendered enough to suggest more detail in the frame.

The key to having a frame be more elaborate without upstaging the painting is the harmony of the elements (line, form, material, color, texture) and economy in their use: every element and detail should have a reason for being—should be justified by the painting, and echo an element or detail in the painting. In other words, key to keeping the frame subordinate to the painting is having nothing in the frame that isn’t a complement to, or echo of, something in picture. In this case, the primary form in the painting is the cloud. This frame’s response to that form is obvious (the carved bead with rounded stops at the corners, the scallop stops on the flat). The amount and strength of line in the frame must be economical as well—constrained by what suits the painting. I had fun picking up the fine grasses in the foreground with fine carved lines at the frame’s sight edge.

I don’t expect to ever make another frame exactly like this, because there’ll never be another painting exactly like this. That’s one of the tests of a truly living art form: it’s alive to the other arts—and to the world—-in specific ways. But it’s not hard to do. It just requires taking the time to truly see and appreciate the adjacent arts. And it demands that we work with both freedom and humility in our service to the other arts.

It helps, too, to have inspiration, which in this case was provided by Kevin Courter and the landscape of Colusa County, California.

Holton Studio Landscape Show–A Heaven in the Eye

 

The opening for the current landscape show at Holton Studio, A Heaven in the Eye, took place last Saturday, Nov. 14th. The show features 7 Northern California landscape painters: Kevin Courter, Christin Coy, Mark Farina, Paul Kratter, Terry Miura, Robin Moore, Brian Mark Taylor. Tim Holton has assembled a strong show of landscape paintings, all beautifully framed in his Craftsman style frames, each one custom built to suite the painting it surrounds. The gallery is open daily and is located in Emeryville. Please visit the website for more information. http:/www.holtonframes.com