Presenting Art

Whyte Islet, 20x24, acrylic painting by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki featured in Paintings By Numbers - annual fundraiser for the Federation of Canadian Artists, for tickets, go to

Maybe it's just me, but in the past few years I've been experiencing some confusion in expectations for presenting paintings in the commercial gallery setting. When I first started exhibiting my work, traditional subject matter (landscapes, figurative, still life) was mostly framed, while modern genre (abstract, experimental) was acceptable, or even preferred, unframed.

Lando Gallery, Edmonton

This reflected what most collectors expected to see. But, here's the problem. While the frame is an object of beauty which enhances the look of the collector's home, for the artist and art deal it is the thing that eats up storage, gets banged up, quickly goes out of fashion, and causes all sorts of frustrations, and eventually an almost certain financial loss.

Lake O'Hara Lodge painting by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki in collector's home

There is nothing better than a beautifully, tastefully framed painting. But let's talk about the cost of that pleasure for a moment. Frame making is a fine and delicate craft that utilizes expensive materials and tools. The quality product is precious, even if it is made in large batches for standard sized, most frequently sold canvasses, not to mention the custom-sized stuff. To frame the entire exhibit, you are looking at thousands of dollars (been there, done that, broke the bank - I rather spend my money on paint). In effect, the framer, the artist, and the art dealer, are business partners who share the profit when a painting sells. The problem is that the framer always gets paid, while the artist and the dealer are left to suffer the loss if the frame gets damaged before the piece is sold.

Oesa, painting by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki (sold)

Do frames help sell paintings? That is the question.

I would guess - not enough, because over the years, I've noticed a trend of ridding the traditional paintings from frames. I've been researching framing and frame-less options for years and I've seen some very good solutions.

The most obvious frame-less option is to use a gallery stretched canvas (wide edge, staples on the back), and paint the edges in one color - often black. This is what I've been doing with my acrylic landscape paintings, with mixed results.

Winter Apparel, painting by TatjanaMirkov-Popovicki in collector's home

A problem with the black edge is that the black can look quite severe, especially if the edge intrudes into the image. From some reason it took me a a long time to realize this. The front image should slightly wrap over the canvas edge, for a clean unobstructed look. Still, some viewers will dislike the black sides, and whichever color you paint it, someone will not like it. I've been asked to repaint the sides more times than I care to remember, and I wouldn't be surprised if this eventually became a custom order thing following each sale. Perhaps this could become a nice little venture for a gallery intern?

My paintings hanging in an office in Vancouver

One controversial solution is to extend the image all around the edge. One school of thought deems this to be childlike and amateurish, although I've seen this on some really wonderful paintings, and with best success on whimsical and highly stylized paintings. I have recently been assured that this practice is taking off even in the realist camp and that it has lately been accepted by some widely respected artists and their collectors. I tried it on my paintings and I am on the fence. I just can't shake off the impression of the image being printed on the canvas and then stretched. Maybe it just needs time to grow on me.

Some artists use texture to embellish the edges and sides of the canvas to create an impression of a faux frame. I've seen some ingenious use of acrylic mediums, faux gold and silver lief, producing amazing results. In the right hands, this method is a great way to give the piece a finished look.

Similarly, I've also seen canvas sides with intentional paint drips and splatters, which give the canvas that art studio flair that some collectors especially value.

Gimmicky? Maybe, but isn't art itself the greatest gimmick of all? If it ends up looking elegant and it doesn't interfere with the artistic value of the piece, it works for me. I read somewhere that J. M. W. Turner framed some of his paintings with a piece of a thick docking rope.

Any of the mentioned methods can be used successfully for large paintings, but small paintings with a traditional subject matter are really difficult to present without a traditional frame. While a small abstract looks lovely on a wide gallery canvas, a realist landscape can look quite silly on it. On an unframed panel, it looks unfinished. So, the little darlings may just have to be framed.

Ruckle Park, painting by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, hanging in collector's home

Another thing to consider is that realist art doesn't have to have that traditional old-world look. It can be transformed into something modern and edgy, including its presentation. I'm thinking collage, heavy texture, "special effects", there is no end to what "could be", I have a lot of ideas I have yet to try out.

The main point is that now that frames are more or less getting out of the picture, the artist needs to be creative not just with the image of the painting, but also with dressing the whole piece up to make it presentable for the public. Rather than an annoying problem, I am starting to consider this as another creative challenge to be addressed during these increasingly longer evenings in the studio.

May the fall bring us many crispy mornings followed by mild sunny days and inspired evenings in front of the easel!