Thursday, April 14, 2011

Picture Framer.

I'm thinking of my exhortations to my Year 8 Writing Class to begin at the interesting bit, then backfill, but I'm not sure whether there is an interesting bit in this musing.  It was for me, but perhaps you had to be there.  I'll try.

My cousin's been staying with me, on and off, for the past three months, using our place as her Australian base.  She wanted to buy us - my old man and me - a parting gift.  Thus, she offered to have one of my son's drawings framed.  Seemed like a good idea, and something I'd been meaning to do but never got around to.  Thus the plan for the first weekday of my vacation was to locate a picture framers close by.

My son sketched this picture on black cartridge paper with what looks like white chalk. There's some charcoal shading too.  It's quite big, about a metre by god knows what; maybe sixty centimetres.  It's from a life drawing class he took when he was about nineteen.  We were all overwhelmed by the beauty of this portrait of a woman, breasts hanging, eyes closed.  I didn't think my big goofy boy, who at that stage spent lots of time stomping around the house making animal noises, had it in him.  Prior to that year, he'd done maths and science subjects, thinking he'd be an architect, or some-such.  Now he was a budding artist.  The other thing about this portrait is it's done several years under his bed, unprotected, amongst indescribable, unmentionable filth that's shocked even him.  I rescued it last year after he'd finally finished his Communication Design degree and cleaned up his room, thinking to start fresh.  By that stage the picture was crumpled, and a bit torn around the edges, but still, well, a work of art; an almost careless yet very accomplished study.

Which is how we ended up at a local framers.  It's in Sydney Road, only a block or two down from the Coburg shops, in that no man's land stretch that's not yet fashionable.  (Give it time, now that Brunswick's the new Fitzroy, it won't be long 'til Bohemia creeps further north.)  The shop didn't look like much from the outside.  Thought it might have been closed, but it wasn't.

"What can I do for you ladies?"  This dark-haired stocky, smiling guy was rubbing his hands together as we approached.  Told him the story and he cast an oh-oh sort of eye over the crumpled picture.  "Hmm," he said, frowning, "I'm going to have to glue it and I can't guarantee that it won't get creases and I'm worried about smudging it." Spreading his hands over the picture like a Reiki healer, he mimed how he was going to have to press to get the wrinkles out.  Didn't seem to be a problem from my perspective, but I rang my son for his advice.  They had a bit of craftsman to craftsman talk and decided the whole gluing procedure wouldn't be a problem.  Seemed a bit ridiculous to worry about a couple of creases from my perspective.  Whatever the framer did was going to liberate Ms Tits from down the side of my wardrobe and would have to be an improvement.

"So, have youse got a particular frame in mind?"  Good teeth and a very accommodating attitude, I thought.  I had no idea.  "Did youse want a mount?" Interesting.  Cousin Butterfly, however, knew what he meant.

Our framer was a bit of a know-it-all but savvy enough to make Butterfly think he agreed with all her  suggestions for frame and mount.

"Do you want ordinary glass or matte?" he asked.
"Oh, I think ordinary," said Butterfly, on what pretext, I don't know, but she sounded like she had some artistic reason for her choice.
"Glad you said that!" he chimed.  "That's the best.  The matte can make it a bit dull."  I'm quite sure if she'd said matte, he would have agreed and had a stock reply - the ordinary can make it a bit bright?

I didn't really get it so asked what he meant.  He waved to a display over my shoulder.  I swung around. "See those pictures there? They don't even look like there's any glass on them, whereas with your ordinary glass, see how it brings out the colours?"  I looked at the frames he indicated.  He had a point.  I wandered in a bit closer to study the matte finished photos.  They were a framed series of four photo portraits of what I thought were four pretty young girls.  Initially, I thought they were sisters given the variations in age, hair styles and clothes.  These were black and white head and shoulder shots of back-combed made up early sixties debs, by the looks.  Special party frocks, ribbons and strappy dresses.  Clear, beautiful faces.  In the centre of the frame was a small square inset plaque, inscribed with Greek capital lettering.

"Who're the women?" I asked, mildly interested and my usual nosey self.  Thought it'd be some old relic from a customer who hadn't returned to collect it.
"It's my mother."  I was still studying the pretty faces.
"Wow. Pretty woman."
"She passed away in 1971. When I was two.  Her and my little sister.  And that's me sitting on dad's knee."  Instantly, I had tears welling up.  "It's a passport photo.  You didn't have to have a separate photo for a child back then.  It was just before we went back to Greece.  After my mum passed away."  In the black and white photo, his father has short, rocker-style hair. He's wearing a checkered sports jacket and an open necked shirt.  He has a hollow eyed look; a blank, empty serious stare for the camera.  His wide-eyed similarly serious two year old son is perched on his left knee,  The pretty young woman above had died in childbirth.

I don't know the framer's name, but I'm calling him Dimitri now.  Dimitri was far from maudlin, although his eyes shone with empathy at my reaction.  However, it seemed life improved on the return to Greece.  His dad, unable to make a match with one of her older sisters, courted and married the fifteen year old girl next door who'd been looking after little Dimitri while his father worked.

"People can't believe how young my mum is," Dimitri laughed.  "She's only thirteen years older than me.  I  call her my mum.  She is my mum.  She never made me feel that I wasn't her own.  I didn't find out until I was sixteen that she was my step-mum.  How would I know?  I couldn't remember."

"Where's your dad now?" Dimitri was trying a couple of different frames against the picture.
"He's here, working." Almost on cue, a small grey haired man shuffled across the back of the workroom behind the shop.
"Doesn't mind you talking about him?"
"Nah. Doesn't listen. He's got selective hearing."

There was something wonderful about being in this family business  where Dimitri, his brothers and his dad work together.  I'm wondering what else I can have framed for the sake of a bit more chat.

Meanwhile, I could see that Butterfly and I were doing a bit of a dueling writers thing, wondering who'd get dibs on the story.  If I was a better writer perhaps I could eke it out into a sixties Captain Corelli's Mandolin.  Sadly, I'm not.

The frame will set Butterfly back 175 bucks.  But the experience was a bit priceless.


  1. You get the dibs, plus any royalties - and I made an informed choice, I'll have you know, on the glass. I haven't hung around artists without something rubbing off! Let's hope it's not the pastel in the glueing!

  2. LOL-ed at the indescribable filth line and the Ms Tits one also. You have just reminded me of the nosey questions I asked the tour guide at the Cutta Cutta caves. Such as, "Anyone ever fallen?" He gave me heaps of blog fodder. A 10y o had fainted at the back of the line. The guide had to muscle through the tourists to scoop the boy up and get him out. All was eventually well with the ADHD dehydrated lad, but his mum was nowhere in sight. Turns out she wasn't going to waste her then $16 entry fee by checking on her son - she merrily continued the tour! Reckless or enterprising? Janexxx

  3. Tristan's trash and treasure? Never would believe an artistic temperament could treat as trash such treasure if I didn't know him. He is such an unassuming person, never knew his worth and probably still walks around thinking he's ordinary.
    People like him are so rare to meet: but then you always knew you had treasure in him. You write beautifully Jude, not a spare word.