It would be a mistake to believe, however, that framing of this nature is a relatively simple task. Framing at the level of John Jones requires a series of departments, large workshops and a small army of employees.
John Jones founded the company in the 1960s and very soon started working for the artistic elite including Francis Bacon and David Hockney. In fact, they recently worked with Hockney on his much acclaimed exhibition at the Royal Academy this year. Kristian Jones, who is one of John’s two sons who head up the business today, says, “A colleague of mine, Tim Blake, worked on that with David. We dry mounted the large works that were printed in LA on aluminium and floated them into tray frames.”
The frame has to support the work, it’s not about creating a frame that is going to compete with it
Dry mounting is a process whereby tissue is placed between a photograph or poster and the mount; this tissue is heated causing it to liquefy which in turn bonds the artwork to the mount.
Natasha Woolsey, Marketing Manager at John Jones, shows Humans Invent around their extensive studios situated in North London. Before entering the first workshop we peer into a long corridor of a room, the walls of which are lined with hundreds of frame samples. Woolsey says, “There is a lot to choose from and we don’t have these out in the main area because it would probably scare people.”
These are just samples, a hint towards the variety they have on offer but if you really want a unique frame you can work with them to create a bespoke design. In the first workshop, the scream of a saw draws us to an industrial sized machine which wood is being fed into. Woolsey says, “This is the daddy. This machine cuts all our mouldings. So we design any type of frame we like and then we build the moulding that then cuts the wood. We can literally do anything we like.”
We then move onto a series of smaller rooms where the more refined processes take place. In the sanding room I touch a recently finished wooden frame and find it is as smooth as velvet. In another workshop a gilder is delicately putting the finishing touches to a frame of gold leaf layered over blue Gesso – this gives the gold finish a darker hue after it has been burnished.
As well as traditional, wooden frames John Jones has ventured into different materials and styles. They recently created a light box for Chris Levine’s ‘The Diamond Queen’, a 3D photo portrait of the Queen with the addition of a real diadem with over 1,000 white diamonds.
John Jones worked with Francis Bacon on the look and feel of his frames. He wanted it to be really reflective so you would see yourself when you looked into it
They have also begun to experiment with acrylic. Kristian Jones says, “We’ve been working with artist Nicola Green on what we’ve called an Olympic frame because it is based around the coming Olympics. We are using coloured acrylic. The artist does the artwork onto the acrylic and we build a frame around that. When the light hits the acrylic the edges illuminate.”
If the frames can be so diverse, we were interested to know whether someone with a discerning eye and a knowledge of frames could tell a John Jones apart from others. Woolsey says, “Well, you would know it’s a John Jones frame because of the attention to detail. Take this frame here (pointing to a large frame by the staircase), you don’t want to have the artwork right next to the wood because the wood will off-gas (a phenomenon where volatile chemicals are released from the wood) and damage the artwork, so we have designed these fillets that are paper covered and completely inert so you can put the artwork on that fillet and your artwork won’t get damaged.”
A Francis Bacon hangs nonchalantly in the corner of the studio upstairs, crowded by a number of other beautifully framed works. Art conservationist (John Jones is expanding into other fields) Annika Erikson tells me, “John Jones worked with Francis Bacon on the look and feel of his frames. He wanted it to be really reflective so you would see yourself when you looked into it. This ochre colour, with a subtle matt side and really bright gilded front was something that they worked towards and is now generally seen on almost all his work. It has become almost part of the work.”
Interestingly, Damien Hirst was such a fan of the Francis Bacon frames he now gets all his work framed by John Jones. They certainly are in good company.