Tim Key: ‘I’ve framed CD sleeves, playing cards, crisp packets – even my Oyster card’


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Recently, I had a fantastic, almost spiritual, experience with a slaphead in a framing shop. I love watching people work at the best of times, but there was something really amazing about watching this bald craftsman getting his hands on a print and thumbing it into a stained-cherry-wood rectangle. It was quite emotional.

People these days seem mainly to talk about framing. Wherever you go there’s someone using a phrase like, “I must frame that”, or “I’m jealous of my friend Liz because she’s got lots of really great frames”, or “What do you think of my frame that’s painted gold?”, or “I’m thinking of going to Liz’s house and smashing her frames, see what she thinks of that”. My point is, it’s all frames right now! That was what gave me the idea of writing a whole column about it.

Colours to the mast – I love framing. I’ve only recently got into it but, safe to say, I have the bug. Most of what I do now is framing. I do other stuff as well, of course. I watch television shows, cook rice, and I’m currently nurturing a yucca plant. But chiefly I frame. Posters, prints, self-portraits. Anything I can get my hands on, I will frame it. And the more I frame the more responsible and ordered my life feels. It’s like a drug in that sense.

By putting something in a frame we are saying “This thing is good” and “This thing merits dangling on a hook” and “I’m not pissing about with Blu-Tack for this thing”. A frame can make something look more significant and more expensive than it actually is. I’ve been in people’s houses where I’ve seen things in frames that looked great, but then I’ve considered it and thought, “Mmm, it’s just ’cos you’ve framed it – if it wasn’t in a frame that certificate would just look like any old scrap of paper”. And then I’ve popped it out of its frame and my suspicions have been confirmed. “I took it out of its frame and now look at it, pathetic.” 

My current framing bender started about a month ago when I finally got round to making an honest artwork of a Picasso piece I’d printed off the internet. I’d selected a nice, thick 6in x 4in frame and spent the Bank Holiday weekend removing the glass, lining it all up nicely and then bending the metal bits back over. Once I’d leant it against a book and stood well back with my hands on my hips I couldn’t have been happier with it. I literally cracked open a can of Grolsch and started taking photos of my frame which I then emailed to myself, printed and framed.

Since I’ve got the bug I’ve gone mad with it. I’ve framed Russian film posters, I’ve framed certificates, I’ve framed that tennis player scratching her arse, I’ve framed photos of me getting lashed on my own, I’ve framed CD sleeves, playing cards, receipts, crisp packets and my Oyster card. If it doesn’t move and is relatively 2D, it’s fair game for framing. I’m a framer. I found a frame in a charity shop last week that was so painfully ornate that I really had no other option but to buy it, get it home and frame it.

Then last week I took the next step in the world of framing: bespoke. Famously, I love a ready-made frame. Quick and easy, less faff. But I have found a couple of times they’ve compromised what I’m trying to present. I’ve got a paper cutter, and I’ve noticed myself doing a lot of trimming down. Sometimes I have to cram it in a frame. On one occasion I folded a Klimt in half to get it in. Offensive to Klimt.

So today I strolled down to the slaphead’s little framing den. I almost wept as he assembled a bespoke frame for my Trainspotting poster. He had a monocle and hummed as he framed. I applauded the stained wood and tight fit, and he scrawled the bill. It was a bit of a piss-take and I drove it down and he looked sad as the price fell. Then I shook this fabulous artisan’s hand and left to hang my piece. And now I stand before it, watery-eyed and drinking tea. It looks amazing. Fair play to him.

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