Posts Tagged ‘frame’


In an earlier painting, Untitled X, we saw the use of lines at the very edge of the painting, giving us a hint of framing.  Here, in Untitled XII, the frame idea comes through as if it were the key to interpreting this painting.

We’ve just looked at twelve works by this artist. I posted them in succession and with such haste in an attempt to simulate a gallery experience. When you see a solo show in a gallery you go from one piece to the next, you look close,  you stand way back, you circle around, and you go back to something you saw earlier. You try to get a feeling for how this artist’s mind and imagination work.

Notice that in Untitled XII the “frame” is not complete.  Not only is it conspicuously broken, but it waves in and out of the other elements.  Whereas in previous paintings, the crisp lines were placed on a field of undulating, bulging colors and we could talk about “background,” here background and foreground are interacting.  The “frame” is not separate from or placed on top of anything.  It is simply another element in the painting.

Think of a painting as a conversation. You, the viewer, are half of the conversation.  How you frame the conversation determines what you hear/see.

Magritte comes to mind.  His paintings, as all humor, rely on framing or Magritte-Time-Transfixed_360context.  Here the frame or context is a neat, bourgeois living room, which sets up certain expectations and assumptions. A model locomotive mounted into a fire place would be jarring enough, but a locomotive moving outward from a fireplace—notice the smoke—is beyond all your assumptions about what’s possible.  You can only take comfort from the realization that you are looking at a constructed image and not a real locomotive in a real fire place.  Small comfort! You immediately realize that you love looking at this and that this was Magritte’s intention. You’re trapped, looking at something that you don’t understand.  Sounds like the beginning of doubt and Cartesian introspection. Congratulations, you’re modern.

A Magritte painting has one joke in it.  Once you get it, it pretty much comes to rest.

In Boyer’s Untitled XII you may see a bird or a face, but only fleetingly.  The wit in a Boyer painting keeps ricocheting in your brain.

Painting by Bruce Hatton Boyer, oil on canvas, 40” x 30”


Rene Magritte, 1898-1967

Bruce Hatton Boyer is the author of:

The Solstice Cypher, 1979

The Natural History of the Field Museum: Exploring the Earth and its People, 1993

The Miniature Rooms: the Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago, 2004












All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.





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It looks hap-hazard, doesn’t it, at first glance. There’s a frame within a frame within what might be another frame and things get a bit uncertain there, not at all like what you expect from a frame. The job of a frame is to separate the illusion created by the artwork from the banal, certain reality of the wall. But this frame is not only blurry but it seems to be sliding off into the lower left. Or is it emerging from the lower left? So you ponder this. Then you notice a small white rectangle in the upper left and, oh, another one in the lower right. Now your eye goes back and forth between the two, crossing the painting diagonally. There’s another white rectangle attached to the “frame” in the middle, a bigger one, and you pause there as you go diagonally upper-left-lower-right. Then there’s that brush. This may actually have been the first thing you noticed in the whole painting. What happened there? What’s it doing there? Did the artist drop it accidentally? Well, no, that wouldn’t be accidental, because she had taken one of her brushes and painted one side blue. Then what. She must have deliberately placed it on her canvas painted side down. This is indeed what she did, quite deliberately, carefully and quickly, on the spur of the moment and as the last act in making this work of art. It’s witty and it’s profound. The imprint of the brush brings the “frame issue” even more into focus. Ha, what focus? This painting has us coming and going on this question of what’s illusion, what’s reality. And that’s a  good thing.
Painting by Maria Palacios. Oil on canvas, 24×30.
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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My painting class is called “Impressions of Landscape.”   The recurring question is:  what is a landscape?  To make a landscape do you need a tree, a house, a mountain, clouds, a path leading somewhere? What?

You need a horizon line.  That’s not an aesthetic decision.  It’s not a matter of taste or personal preference.  It’s what your brain demands.  The horizon line is how it orients itself and it’s how it knows that the body it’s in charge of is standing up.

Once you accept that bare essential, you are free to play and goof off and be whimsical and testy.   I mentioned the work of John Baldessari in class and how his work subverts assumptions about language and frames of reference.

Sometimes goofing off, being whimsical and testy involves a lot of work.  One of my students, an architect, took up the dual challenge of paring down a landscape to the horizon line and subverting assumptions about frames.  His piece, measuring over one hundred horizontal inches, consists of three canvases of equal size, precisely spaced, and arranged in a descending arc.

The viewer is likely to question whether this is a landscape and feel, vaguely at first, that something is moving and then feel that he is moving.  He will go back and forth between the disorienting, sinking feeling and the assurance of the horizon line.  Creating this effect is a major accomplishment.  The photo at the top of this text does not do justice to the work because of the studio clutter around it.  This highly original triptych by Peter Brinckerhoff deserves to be shown on a white gallery wall all by itself.  It requires space and time for contemplation.  John Baldessari and fans of conceptual art would like this, I think.


All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.




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