AICCM talk

anthony springfordComment

A few blog posts ago I promised the text from my short talk at the AICCM conference last year. The first half is below. It is short, and really just the introduction of an idea that needs much more exploration, but here it is! The title: "Do We Need a Theory of the Picture Frame?" Part One.

My name is Anthony Springford, and for most of the last 15 years I have been a lecturer and researcher in Art History and Theory. However about a year ago I decided to start a picture framing business. Like anyone, I have tried to bring my existing skills to bear on the learning of new ones, and so I have been in search of a theoretical discourse to illuminate my current practice of picture framing. 

I haven’t found a good book on the topic. If anyone knows of one, please tell me! However in trying to find a theory of picture framing, I have come to realize that my question has been off. I need to start by un-ravelling what I think needs to be theorised, and indeed whether there is a thing there to be theorized. In short: Do we need a theory of the picture frame?


There is a huge amount written around the topic of ‘the frame’ in the abstract; the conceptual work of the frame, the history of frames, or of particular frames. In fact, twentieth century art is, in many ways, a conceptual and aesthetic interrogation of the picture frame and the plinth.

We can trace this examination from Picasso’s fragmentation of the picture frame and its inclusion inside the Cubist painting (as part of the game, and a fragment in a collage, rather than a stable boundary at the limits of the picture plane). Picasso, along with Suerrat, Duchamp, Malevich, make framing a problem artists must deal with.

Eva Hesse’s Hang Up, is basically a frame, from which emerges a giant loop of wire which is given a strange pictorial status because it is anchored to the frame it in a very odd inversion of the Albertian convention of the picture plane as window.  

We end up with conceptual art in which the conceptual framing of an experience or action as Art is what is at stake. Robert Barry’s Inert Gas series from 1969. Here, Barry creates an object which is imperceivable (it can’t be seen, felt or smelt) and makes no concrete impact on the world, however the act of documenting it and framing it as art (via the institutions of art, marketing and photography) makes it into this vast and sublime gesture. It becomes a sculpture which encompasses the earth, and which we are all currently breathing. The object is physically unframable, but conversely is constituted only by its institutional framing.

So there is no shortage of theories of the frame, but this tradition addresses the conceptual function of the frame but leaves the frame itself, in an important way, outside the picture.

This is the story of the frame, along with the art object, disappearing, because it addresses the frame, not as a zone of forces and potentialities, but as a conceptual differential between Art and Not-Art. It can be traced to the Kantian concept of Beauty -- which is a concept that serves to frame an experience that cannot be adequately conceptualised -- and Kant’s claim that a good picture frame is self-negating. In other words, the concept of Art defines a cultural space for non-conceptual play and aesthetic judgement, which finds its correlate in the physical picture frame. The picture frame, for Kant, must be kept to a minimum lest it interfere with that space. It should disappear from the experience of the art itself, and, in the history of modern art, it mostly does.   

There is another, related reason frames have been pushed to the margin of interpretation. Frames have an intimate relationship to the economic and aesthetic construction of the easel painting, and as a sign of the artwork’s commodity value. A picture frame, in theory at least, is detachable. It belongs to the work on display, but it also belongs to the décor of the room or collection.  Frames can change with fashion and with taste, while the work within remains (in principle) unchanged. The frame is sacrificial: it preserves the ideal space of the art work, for as long as it remains supplementary and for as long as we imagine that it contributes nothing meaningful to the work as art. 

So in post-modern art discourse, with its insistence on context and politics, the frame is doubly corrupt: first as a sign of the artwork’s aesthetic ideality and secondly as the sign of its emptiness as a commodity. It is why we see plenty of contemporary theorizing of the function of the frame, but very little discussion of the three inches of squiggly stuff at the edge of the picture plane.

Kant uses the Greek Parergon in his 3rd Critique to describe that which sits along-side the work but is not the work itself: the drapery on a figure, the columns on a building, the frame on a picture. Yes, that is a weird bunch of examples, but the notion is that some stuff belongs to the work, marking the artwork off from the world of non-art, and so frames the experience of art as art. Parerga are a supplement, an ornament, that complement the work by being part of the work but not an essential part of the work.  If the parerga are insufficiently modest – if they draw attention to themselves through their own fanciness or luxury or artiness – they threaten the work. They become, he says, Schmuck.

At this point, I can’t not mention Derrida’s essay on the Parergon. Not only is it one of the best-known responses to Kant’s comments on the frame, it also gives us tools to imagine the situation differently. While 20th century art has focused on the conceptual framing of art, as art, in true Kantian fashion it has treated the ornamental, material and intimate stuff of the frame as a redundancy, as kitsch, as “schmuck”...


The Frame Blog & Menpes

anthony springfordComment

It is amazing how little attention we normally pay to the framing of artworks. Before I started in the framing business I was only paying attention to what was happening on or in the picture, where the smallest incident was important but anything beyond the edges remained outside my consciousness (hidden in plain view if you like).

Now that I make them myself, I'm convinced that frames make a huge difference to our experience of art (especially paintings and drawings) but somehow we manage to edit them out of our experience until something happens to make us think about them. Then, suddenly, a whole world of inventiveness and artistry appears and it is hard to understand how it wasn't obvious before. When that happens The Frame Blog is a revelation, as is the wealth of amazing frames in art history, and the rarity of books or websites about them!

I was lucky to meet Lynn Roberts, the primary author of The Frame Blog, in Melbourne where she was a keynote speaker at the AICCM Frame: Concept, History and Conservation conference. Another presenter was John Payne (who has written a book on Framing the Nineteenth Century). Both are well known in frame history circles (which are very small circles!). As a small sample of this still obscure area of scholarship I have attached John Payne's article on one of Australia's great frame innovators, Mortimer Menpes. 

I love the combination below of prosaic (even banal) subject matter, Whistlerian composition and Japanese frame, without which the painting would be in danger of disappearing.  


anthony springfordComment

It’s 2017 and time to get back onto the Blog, which fell by the wayside somewhat in the chaos of 2016.

2016 was a big year for Black Parrot in so many ways. We listened to a lot of Bowie and Leonard Cohen on Spotify (and mourned the loss of a special part of our collective soul); we renovated the Mittagong shop to make a big gallery space the first thing you see when you come through the door; we introduced new lines of mouldings (including the fancy Bellini mouldings); and we bought new equipment and set up a new, more efficient workshop. In a busy year, December might have been our busiest month. We launched our cinema ad at Empire Cinemas (that is featured on the home page of the website) and Prudy and I got married (that was a big project!). 

In amongst all that I managed to present a short paper at the AICCM conference in Melbourne, “AICCM Frame: Concept History and Conservation.” The conference was linked to the Degas exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia, and it was so interesting I didn’t even manage to sneak out to see the Degas show! It was also a great introduction to the small but serious community of Australian framing nerds. 

So for my first few thought-bubbles of the year I figured I should jot down some of the discoveries I made in Melbourne, which included few of great chats with Dr Ian Geraghty (conservation framer and fellow PhD graduate from CoFA), Ruben Rich (who hand carves ornamental frames) and Lynn Roberts (who is famous in framing circles for her blog).

To begin though, I should post the abstract for the paper I presented. It was a summary of some of my thoughts over my first year of picture framing after a decade and a half of art theory teaching:

"In art theory, picture frames are present everywhere but rarely ever the focus of analysis or theoretical investigation. We can find quality scholarship on individual artists or frame-makers in relation to the history of framing, but the bulk of published research is of the connoisseurial sort, detailing very specific historical developments or individual artist's practices, or it is oriented towards conservation. In terms of "art theory" it is hard to skirt perilous puns about the marginality of the picture frame. 
Paradoxically however, analyses of the activity of the frame, aesthetically or conceptually, exist as a profoundly influential thread underpinning this same discourse: From Kant's Third Critique, to Heidegger’s The Origin of the Work of Art, to Greenberg faced with the paradox of the blank canvas (at once picture and object), and Derrida writing on the Passe-Partout in The Truth in Painting, the frame constitutes the artwork as Art. Similarly the frame itself, far from being marginal in 20th Century art, recurs as a central concern. Malevich's Black Square is influential because it is as much a white frame as it is a black square - it is easily read as a passe-partout, cut adrift with nothing or everything inside. Similarly Eva Hesse's Hang Up, Robert Barry's Inert Gas Series, and Piero Manzoni's The Base of the World, are foundational works in post-modern art discourse which we can read as frames turned inside out.
So, while we have a very fertile territory, rimmed on all sides by sophisticated art and scholarship, I would argue that we need a theoretical engagement with the picture frame as we find it between the extremes of the conceptual and the particular. We need a theoretical engagement with what can happen in those few inches beyond the picture surface before we get to the world at large." 

National Day of Action

anthony springford1 Comment

Today, June 17, the Arts sector has collectively declared to be a National Day of Action in response to cuts to the Arts in Australia - including cuts to the Australia Council, the lack of a Coalition Arts policy and the exclusion of the Arts in the government's 'innovation agenda'. 

We were a bit slow to come to the party, but we have had a great time seeing what's happening around the nation via the hashtags #IStandWithTheArts and #AusVotesArts.  

Apparently after the curtain call of every theatre performance between now and the election we, the audience, will be addressed by performers about the situation of the arts industry in Australia. This includes the 'big' kids in school such as the Sydney Theatre Company, Belvoir and Bell Shakespeare (we might see if our local theatre groups are joining in the campaign!?) They also intend to distribute #IStandWithTheArts cards addressed to local MPs for the audiences to sign. 

Don't forget to sign the petition !

Why is teaching kids to draw not a more important part of the curriculum?

Commentaryanthony springfordComment

This article on the importance of drawing (from the ever-informative The Conversation) chanced to come by our desk this morning, and it got us thinking.

There is an election coming up in Australia, and neither major party has given the arts so much as a nod. I like to give a plug to The Arts Party when-ever I can, because while they are a very small party with no chance of wielding any real power if they even win a seat, they do represent a slowly growing reaction to the slow excision of the Arts from our social and political lives. Federal funding for the the Arts has been hugely reduced under the current government and is hardly likely to gain much under the next; arts organisations are being stripped of their independence and the arts are being removed from education on all levels.

paints pencils paper and brush

We need Visual Art, Music and Dance, in our schools because we need them in our lives, but since the roll out of the national curriculum we have seen hours of education devoted to art and music slashed. This isn't about party politics. This is about our national leaders and our national institutions loosing their imagination, and quite possibly their belief that we should hope for a future different to the present.   

The article from the Conversation makes a really good, simple case, for the importance of drawing in developing our analytical and communication skills, but of course drawing is a whole lot more than this. We wouldn't get through our day very well without basic language skills, but our lives would barely be worth living if we didn't also have access to language used in a way that exceeds everyday usefulness - as poetry or song. We need poetry to love language, to  make our lives joyous, and to imagine an even better world. We also need drawing to learn how to see, and to imagine, and to create new possibilities in every part of our lives. 

So yes, drawing makes for better surgeons, better designers, and better engineers, I also reckon it would make for better politicians, but it would take quite a shake-up to test that theory!

Shop renovations...

Art Room Mittagonganthony springford1 Comment

....Are complete! 

We have been flat out like a lizard drinking over the last few months renovating the Black Parrot art and framing shop (it feels like much longer). The aim of the game was to make the space more inviting (moving the art materials so they weren’t right in front of the front door was top of the priority list). We also wanted to feature the gallery more prominently, and "clean up" the frame assembly workspaces, and install a flash customer service area. The result was ripping up carpets, paintings walls, floors and ceilings, building two new rooms - one to expand the old gallery space to convert it into an art materials "cave" (like a lolly shop for adults!) and the other room for storage of customer works and matt boards and foam-core. A new customer service table was constructed, a new "office" carved out (where Atlas could happily flop down and sleep undisturbed), a victorian cedar shop counter purchased, and enormous amounts of cleaning-up , throwing-out and "rationalising" were undertaken!

The results can be seen in the before and after pics below. All in all, we are pretty damn pleased! We still need to purchase a plant and coffee/side table for the gallery, set up the printing press, and purchase an antique bird cage for Monsieur Black Parrot (currently perched  on the counter, unrestrained!) - but the hard yards are done! A big shout out and thumbs up to Anthony's parents - they were absolutely the engine, coal and coal-shovelers driving the whole process. Without them, Anthony, Atlas and I would still be sitting on our dusty, salmon pink carpets, bemoaning the enormity of the task before us and wondering where to start (before chuffing off to Stoners for coffee and cake and a puppaccino!)

Now - to we start planning some exhibitions in our lovely new gallery!

The overall effect...





Happy New Year

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Happy New Year!

After a couple of weeks off over Christmas we are back in action down here in the Highlands. The shop is open, commuting to Sydney has recommenced, and Atlas is back to hitting up the dog park every morning (his absolute favourite activity of the day outside of breakfast, dinner, and unexpected opportunities to steal food!). His BFF at the moment is Ben and they do some excellent, very amusing bum wrestling! He seemed somewhat miffed to discover Ben had shrunk over the Christmas break, however. (Ben is the one in the photo submitting to the gorgeously fluffy Samoyed! Atlas is the one in the ridiculously spiffy red vest.)

The street sign is finally up for the shop (that's it on the right!). Hopefully it will be a little easier for people to find us now! 

Anthony has managed to have a day in the studio already this year, which I'm pretty sure he is quite relieved about! And the results of Day 1, 2016 were pretty good!

Pencil drawing

 Atlas in his happy place.

Atlas in his happy place.

 New street sign for the shop. Hello world!

New street sign for the shop. Hello world!

Five Months already…

Black Parrot life, Atlasanthony springfordComment

It has been a tired-to-our-bones-busy five months since we took over running Art Room and made the Southern Highlands home. It has become home, though, and that sits so contentedly with us. As Anthony says - it would be so strange now to not see cows every day!

Another marker that has recently passed us by was two, overwhelming-at-times but gloriously happy, months since we picked up the little bozo with lion paws that we call Atlas! Our Instagram has been horribly neglected in that time as we have forgotten how to take photos of anything but the little dude. On the other hand, we have made LOTS of friends wherever we go, and have recently adopted the title of "Atlas's humans".

Art Room, as those of you who are local may have noticed, has undergone some changes. Anthony, his Mum and Dad, and I did a spot of renos involving paintbrushes, saws, drills and other serious hardware a few weeks ago. Since then there has been a very serious-looking plan, drawn up by Anthony and his Dad, in circulation, as well as a make-a -project-manager-blush-its-so-comprehensive work plan, which has led me to think that maybe the shop is in for just a few more 'tweaks'! 

The gallery was hung with Black Parrot art in time for the Southern Highlands Arts Festival (photo below of the results - with a cameo appearance of Atlas who, as you can see, isn't familiar with the idea of us taking photos of anything but him!). 

Framing work is coming in to Art Room at speed. Aaron has been generously working overtime to help get on top of things. Anthony finally feels like he has found his sea legs along with where most things are hidden in the shop! Hopefully this all bodes well for more studio time next year. 

Right now, I am counting down the DAYS until we have a break! We have nothing planned, and I am desperately trying to keep myself under control and keep this holiday as a whole lot of time off lazing around at home reading books and watching old movies. The shop will be closed from 23rd December until 3rd January. Its going to be so good to sleep in…. if only we can teach Atlas that concept in the next week!