Michael Gira painting – how to frame giant Swans

Recently, we took in a 4′ X 6′ canvas with more than a few challenges and some interesting history. The painting is a self-portrait by Michael Gira. In 1982, Gira formed the post-punk band Swans. The group was one of the “New York No Wave” bands. Before coming into our customer’s possession, the painting had belonged to Swans keyboardist/vocalist/songwriter Jarboe. The now-owner is a huge Swans fan and was very excited
to get it framed properly.

Michael Gira & Jarboe 1994

Typically, a canvas should be stretched. But many details in Gira’s painting, including his signature, went all the way out to some of the edges. Stretching the canvas would mean hiding all that when we wrapped it around the stretcher bars. When the customer informed us that he had limited space to hang the huge painting in, we realized a solution that would solve both dilemmas. We decided to wrap just the side edges around an acid-free, rag mat board. The mat board would be big enough, safe enough, and thin enough. In order to show the top & bottom edges, we would leave those as-is, and float the entire piece on black suede mat board. The deep color of the suede would practically disappear, almost looking like empty space or a shadow between the image and the frame. The customer chose one of our Roma collection for the frame. And rightly so – it needed to be a substantial frame to carry something of this size & weight, and the hand-finished nature of the Romas made it appropriate for such a special item.

Even an oversize sheet of suede mat board wasn’t big enough to float the canvas on. So we seemed two oversize pieces together. That relief cut in the center allows the parts that will be seen on the sides to be flush.

In order to protect the art, it needed glazing. But it’s not safe for glass to touch the canvas. However, plexiglass is porous and conducts heat differently. It’s also much safer at this size.

Whoops! Those gloves have seen better days.

The result is impressive. It’s a minimal look, per the customer’s requests, but it’s not plain or boring. There’s some lovely, subtle detail in the surface of the frame. The finished piece is sturdy and will protect as well as display the art. Everything other than the building of the frame itself took us nearly one day, mostly because of the size. We needed two work tables to assemble it and the job took two framers to make it happen. Well, we’re not called Big Picture Framing for nothing!

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