Framing paintings

It’s always irked me that getting a painting framed costs so many times more that the painting itself. Maybe it’s because the paintings I’ve ended up buying were purchased in places like Thailand and Bali, where the art is cheaper than here. Even getting it framed there would probably cost less, but then having the framed art shipped back to the US would be really expensive. So I usually end up bringing the artwork back rolled up in a tube and then get it framed here.

We went to a framing shop today, because I had bought a painting on my recent trip to Chiang Mai on the Sunday walking street market (they close off this one street to traffic, and all sorts of vendors come and set up stalls. It gets terrifically crowded, so much that you have to walk in a one-way loop!)

I hadn’t meant to buy a painting (goodness knows I have enough stuff that I haven’t yet hung up. My cousin Pat was looking to buy a painting for his flat; we were lucky to come across a nice traditional Thai style painting of a white elephant that was about the right size for his wall space. There’s a few painting stalls, but most of the work is very cliched (for the tourists!) or not very interesting. We arranged for the painter to roll up and pack the painting in a tube so that Pat could take it with him on his flight back to Hong Kong.

Walking all the way to the other end of the street, I came across a really striking and elaborate painting. Think “Day of the Dead punk in a Thai tattoo parlor”. The painter was at his stall, and his breath reeked of beer. The painter babbled on about how he free hand painted it, two years ago. It just gushed out of him, and he’d never taken a photo of it. I was quite possibly the first person to express any interest in the painting. I laughed and said maybe it meant I was the most deranged person to encounter it. His younger brother, who was all of 12, but twice his brother’s age in sobriety, told me it was 2,000 baht. I said I’d finish walking down the street and think about it, not as a bargaining tactic, but because I really wanted to see what other interesting things were on sale at this market.

I came back and looked at it again. It was really arresting, but I needed another painting like I needed another hole in my head. The painter was still there, this time hanging out with a friend. “If you like it, you can have it, name your price.” I offered 1,500 baht. I think if I offered him 1,000 baht he would have sold it to me, but I didn’t feel like taking advantage of a drunk man, especially since he’d probably put his heart and soul into it. Then again, if that painting hadn’t been sold in two years, maybe he was happy that at long last the pit-bull of a painting was going to a nice, understanding home. His friend and I rolled up the canvas and stuffed in in a plastic bag, since he wasn’t quite steady enough. He didn’t have any cardboard tubes, but I lucked out. Near our guesthouse was a framing shop, and they gave me a cardboard tube free for the asking, when I went to ask the next morning.

Pat was pretty quiet when I was contemplating this disturbing painting, which after all was signed ‘Psycho’! But I worried more about what Joe would think, since sometimes we have very divergent tastes in art. Fortunately he was OK with it, and the divergence in our tastes was with the framing. We finally settled on a very simple plain black frame (boring), but suitable for this overwhelming painting. The frame with the black glitter would have just been too expensive!

I plan to hang this new painting in my living room, where another Thai painting currently sits on my wall. The incumbent is a nice, sedate, village life by the klong, folksy scene. I’ll either put that in the guestroom or sell it. If I hung my new painting in the guestroom, my visitors would get nightmares. As it is, their appetites might be mildly suppressed as they gaze at it from the dining table.

Oddly enough, I got another painting recently. This, however, was from my aunt. She was getting rid of the painting because she needed to make room for some Rorschach. She has two young grandsons, whose mother is really good at framing her sons’ photos and artwork, and presenting them as gifts. They do make much better Christmas and birthday presents than fruitcake or slippers; so much more personal too! So my aunt is running out of wall space. She gave me the painting, because it was painted by my dad. He’d given to his brother as a wedding present. When his brother moved abroad, I think he gave it to my aunt. When I got married, I was kind of hoping that she might me give me the painting. She didn’t, but now by the grace of her grandsons . . . I guess we both value art based on sentiment.

Actually it was pretty funny when my aunt proudly showed me the kids’ artwork. “Look at how smart he is, how symmetrically he painted it. And he’s only 4!”
“Err, you know how they’re made? You smear some paint on the paper and fold it in half. Typically they come out looking like a butterfly,” I hastily added, “But this one looks like an elephant, so yeah, he does have some talent.”
“Really? You don’t say!” my aunt exclaimed.
“Didn’t your son ever make the same kind of artwork at school and bring it home?” It was my turn to be surprised. I thought inkblots were the universal next step after finger-painting in
kindergarten. I guess my cousin got tracked to math and engineering from an earlier age than any of us.

Eventually he gained some art appreciation: one summer in college, we visited the Louvre together. He bought a poster print of Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People.”


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