Life outside the frame

Many would consider the small towns I lived near and grew up in boring. It was the 1980s and they lacked the services and excitement of the cities. But they didn’t lack for character, nor characters.

There was a woman who lived on the fringe of town (when I say town I mean one of about 1,200 people), near the almost abandoned train tracks. Her’s was an old timber cottage, with a greying, gap-toothed picket fence. Since I was a teen at the time, I thought of her as old. Everyone seemed to know of her, but I can’t recall being introduced. My mum would have spoken to her, because she spoke to everyone.  My mother practiced inclusiveness before it was a buzzword.

What I do recall is the unease I felt about her paintings. Lined up along the fence and on the outside walls of her property, they were a bright contrast to her house and yard. They were bold and simple. I wasn’t impressed with their lack of accurate perspective, their flat colours, idiosyncratic spelling, and child-like figures. But I was a teen, so I wasn’t impressed by much. My mum praised them as naive. Of course I didn’t know ‘naive’ was a ‘thing’ in art. But regardless, many locals and in the council thought her works an eyesore that distracted from the town aesthetic. They wanted tidy streets to mirror anonymous suburbs anywhere. Now I live in a suburb and I miss idiosyncrasy.

I didn’t understand the attention she was then starting to gain as an artist. However, I’ve learned much since exchanging the country life for a city one, and I can safely say this woman, whose name I had to look up, is transformed in my eyes.

  • She lived on her terms.
  • She was dedicated to the creation of her own mythology.
  • She painted the history of herself.
  • She told stories about the places where she had lived.

And, she kept going, through adversity upon adversity. She made her home her gallery and she was right to do so. Today, I understand her better, and can appreciate her life and art in a way I couldn’t when I was young. I’m glad she never stopped. She helped make the town special.

According to a curator, she never sold a single piece of work, and as well as painting she composed music and produced needlepoint.

As some of her adversities included surviving two house fires, little of her work is left. She has since passed away and the town has lost some of its colour.

I’m still wondering why I suddenly remembered her today, but regardless, Mrs Iris Frame 1915-2003, thanks so much for a life well created. Little towns and big cities need more like you.

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