Framed – 6 Questions with Bespoke Picture Framer Matthew Jones
In 2012, Art Dubai and John Jones launched a Work on Paper prize. The inaugural winners, artists Hassan Sharif and Luis Camnitzer, were awarded for their work exhibited at Alexander Gray Associates’ booth at Art Dubai. The jury of the John Jones Art on Paper Award – Janah Hilwe, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Kaelen Wilson-Goldie – noted: “Hassan Sharif and Luis Camnitzer have both had consequent drawing practices for many decades. Bringing their work together made us think anew about each artist’s work and created an unexpected encounter. As Diaghilev and Cocteau said: ‘Etonnez-moi’ (surprise me).”
In this interview, John Jones managing director Matthew Jones describes the intricate process and ethos behind bespoke picture framing.
Art Dubai: Tell us about your favourite show, not based on the art but on the framing?
John Jones: The 2011 Paris Photo fair stands out in my memory as having some striking frame designs on display. I was particularly impressed by the frame designs showcased at the Hamiltons Gallery stand, which presented work by internationally acclaimed photographers such as Cathleen Naundorf and Irving Penn.
AD: What does a framer look for?
JJ: Any professional picture framer will be primarily concerned with two things; the protective and the aesthetic contribution of the frame design. Framing is produced first and foremost to conserve an artwork from hazards such as harmful dust particles, knocks and UV rays in both natural and electric light. Then comes the fun part – creating something that is beautiful to look at! The main aim is to construct a design that enhances the artwork, without overpowering it.
AD: What really excites you to see?
JJ: The delicacy of certain finishes is always exciting and beautiful to see. For example, a gesso or gilded frame completed by hand takes weeks to create, and the result is incomparable to any machine produced finish. The delicate colouring and detail which goes into these labour-intensive techniques creates a striking finish which is completely unique. Some of these skills date back to the early Egyptians and Ancient Greeks, and this type of framing represents true craftsmanship of the highest quality.
AD: What sort of forward thinking approaches have you seen to framing?
JJ: Many art collectors are concerned about the impact of humidity when artwork is stored in tropical climates. Since my father first entered the framing business in the 1960’s, we’ve seen some amazing conservation and scientific advances to combat this problem. For example, a German company have recently begun to incorporate a humidity monitor into their actual frame design. Using this monitor, the owner can download a report via radio signal on the humidity levels surrounding their artwork. The frame also includes three distinct Artsorb products which absorb and expel moisture from the air surrounding the piece to protect it from damage. Recognising artwork conservation to this level as a vital step in the framing process is a highly forward-thinking approach that has transformed the industry.
AD: Have you ever seen a show so amazing you wished you had framed it?
JJ: One of our favourite London galleries is Green Cardamom. We have been lucky enough to frame some beautiful pieces for this gallery in the past, but there have been some captivating recent shows that I wish we had worked on e.g. ‘The Scrapbook Project’ by Hajra Waheed. We have a series of work entitled ‘passport photographs’ by this talented artist in our permanent art collection, and I find the personal and public histories and memories showcased in her work fascinating.
AD: Do you have one frame job you are especially proud of where the frame, the protection and the image all came together perfectly?
JJ: We recently framed a challenging 3 dimensional Damien Hirst piece entitled ‘Painting-By-Numbers’ which required an innovative design. The piece is composed of three separate parts: a large-scale cardboard box, a tray containing small paint pots and a canvas. In order to display these three objects within the same frame, we created a system of unique trays and clips which will support the piece safely and securely for years to come. These mechanisms were either sprayed white to match the frame backing, or produced in transparent acrylic to ensure that none of the protective framing elements affected the visual impact of this dramatic work. The entire piece is covered in an acrylic casing which will conserve the artwork from harmful ultra violet light rays, dust particles and airborne pollutants, whilst allowing it to be viewed and enjoyed from diverse angles. The final frame was aesthetically striking and worked to conserve and enhance Hirst’s piece to its full potential.
The Framing Process
- Condition check the artwork and arrange restoration treatment if necessary
- Take measurements, select the right conservation materials and design an aesthetically pleasing framing solution.
- Cut the frame mould in our bespoke wood mill, join and sand the elements by hand.
- Spray, stain, gild or gesso the frame to the desired effect
- Mount the artwork onto a museum standard backing (cotton mount board, Perspex, silk …)
- Fit the frame together including protective glazing, fillets to raise the glazing away from the surface of the artwork, strong back boards to protect the piece from knocks and bumps.
- Attach a secure hanging mechanism to the back of the frame which will support the weight effectively with a beautiful result.