Marilyn in Vectors

Posted on March 26, 2020

This is an example of a piece that’s not particularly unique or valuable, but for our client it meant a lot because it was a gift from someone she loves, and value can often be a subjective thing. It’s an inexpensive print on synthetic canvas and unfortunately, it had spent many years stored rolled, suffering cracking damage to the ink surface each time it was unfurled.

Once it was temporarily tacked with pushpins to the stretcher frame I made for it, raking light revealed the full extent of the damage.  But after gently hand stretching and stapling it, the surface flattened out and the cracked ink fell back into place making it look almost new.

Next we attached a sheet of fluted polypropylene to the back with lath head screws.  This material is a favorite of museums and conservators to leave attached to stretched art to protect it from punctures from behind and to minimize puncture damage from the front.  This inert plastic sheet is free of colorants that can off-gas harmful chemicals over time.  It also keeps the cavity behind a stretched textile from collecting dust and pests over it’s lifetime.

In the design, it was decided that a tapered fabric wrapped liner would be a good buffer between frame and art, both physically and visually.  Physically, it creates a channel to hold the glass away from the surface of the canvas, an important protective step to keep any moisture that condenses on it from damaging the art.  Also, a liner gives the art visual breathing room from a colorful or ornamented frame, keeping it from seeming to crowd in on or overwhelm the art. We like to wrap liners with fabric because while the weave is textural, its pattern too fine to distract from the more important elements like art and frame.

But which fabric would be appropriate?  It was decided to use a white rayon-acetate that would recall Marilyn’s famous billowing halter dress from 1955’s The Seven Year Itch.  Because it was wrapped after the liner was joined, the fabric could be seamless across the corners resulting in a truly custom look.

For this modern, graphic image, a contemporary moulding was chosen, a simple 1 1/2″ tall box frame with a slender 3/4″ face.  For a fully decorated frame like this, the best species to use is basswood, a hardwood with straight, even, uniform grain with an unremarkable appearance we don’t mind covering.  The grain is still visible, however, through the violet stain on top, a transparent layer or color that still reveals the richness and warmth of natural wood.  In the exaggerated color of this portrait, the violet is the shadow color, so when we used that color as the dominant color of the frame, it sank back into the shadows and allowed the image’s warmer flesh-tones to shine through by contrast ensuring that the art would take precedence.

The inner and outer planes of the moulding were hand painted to refer to two other dominant colors in the image, the light blue and the pink.  While the solid, straight edged shapes that make up the image are echoed in the frame’s colored facets, they are only revealed by an indirect viewing angle of the frame, intense colors calling the viewer to approach that are then muted by a head-on angle.

There was discussion of whether glass was even necessary in this framing treatment, considering that it’s traditional for art on canvas not to be framed behind glass.  Most oil and acrylic paintings are brushed with a protective varnish, one that can be periodically washed away and re-applied as cleaning requires.  The surface of dried oil paint is porous and can allow atmospheric dirt and dust to settle not only on the painting but inside it if it is left unglazed, thus the varnish layer is commonly applied once the oil layer cures – although current framing standards recommend the use of glass instead to avoid the potential pitfalls of scrubbing a painting’s surface with the necessary solvents needed to remove it.

This, however is an aqueous ink image, one that can be damaged or at least irreversibly changed by the moisture of a wet varnish coating.  The other vulnerability we needed to consider was that in a printed image like this, the inks will fade much more rapidly than oil paint just through exposure to ultraviolet light, high frequencies that overlap the visible spectrum and so are always present whenever a piece of art is displayed and lit and no longer rolled up or in a darkened container. The glass chosen for this frame has an invisible filtering coating on the inside surface that prevents 99% of these damaging UV rays from reaching the image, as well as an anti-reflection coating on the outside, an optical treatment that all but eliminates distracting glare when viewed from straight on, making the glass effectively invisible.  Notice the difference in the glare from the picture I took of this frame at an angle versus photo taken from straight on.

Now, our client can display this sentimentally important piece, stretched smooth and flat and looking good as new, confident that it will be protected from deterioration for a lifetime.  It will spark conversation from her guests and she’ll remember the special person who gave this print to her whenever she sees in on her wall. Below are more pictures documenting this project: