Pushing boundaries is no new concept in the art world. From Duchamp to Pollock, artists have stretched our understanding of the world around us. In many ways, art pushes conceptual boundaries. Sometimes, however, art pushes literal boundaries as well. Often, artworks break free from the confines of the frames and canvases that traditionally contain them. Artists ignore these literal borders and expand their beautiful handiwork beyond their two-dimensional enclosures and into the world of the viewer. From oil paintings to fiber and sculptural works, each of the following artists allows their artwork to escape the borders of their frame or canvas.
Pere Borrell del Caso, Escaping Criticism (1874)
This work is painted in the trompe l’oeil style. This style of painting refers to works that engage in optical illusions, making two-dimensional surfaces appear to be three-dimensional. While Escaping Criticism does not physically leave its frame it tricks the eye into believing it does. The work features a young boy wearing a loose-fitting white shirt and brown trousers that are rolled up to his knee. His eyes are wide with shock and wonder as he grasps the sides of his frame. He takes a step forward, his foot resting on the bottom of the frame as he moves from his world of paint into ours.
Maisie Broadhead, Chained (2016)
Chained features a striking photo of a seated woman dressed in a 17th-century green gown. Her face is slightly turned and she stares soberly past the viewer, as if lost in thought. Her hands are delicate and graceful and in her left hand, she lightly holds her pearl necklace. This pearl necklace is remarkably unique—it is a stunning chain that wraps around her neck and falls to the bottom of the photo. The pearl chain is not deterred by the end of the photo—it moves past its frame, extending itself into the real world, where it is shackled to a metal ring in the wall. The resulting imagery is striking. The pearls, a symbol of wealth and purity in the 17th century, ultimately act as a constraint to the woman. The work invites its viewers to consider the role of women throughout history and the ways they have been restrained in society. This work is part of Broadhead’s series, Pearls.
Vincent Salvo, Arrivée (2023)
Black butterflies burst forth from a gash in a bright gold canvas. The canvas is encased in an ornate gold frame, but the butterflies pay no mind to this border. They flutter past the frame and land on the wall, creating an arch of delicate winged creatures. The contrast between the gold frame, canvas, and the black butterflies creates a visually stunning effect. The title of the work, Arrivée—French for arrival—leaves room for each viewer to interpret the work in their own way, but emotions of hope, acceptance, and growth come to mind, with the butterflies stretching and growing past the confines of their frame, exploring a new space.
Sarah Meyers Brent, Mommy Loves Me III (2017)
A meticulous mess, Sarah Meyers Brent’s Mommy Love Me III is expressive and spectacular. A white canvas splinters to reveal clothing spilling out and tumbling to the floor. Among striped shirts and underwear are blankets with blue elephants, buzzing bumble bees, and cute red caterpillars. The work speaks to the physical and mental burdens that mothers carry as they care for their children. The extensive work that goes into motherhood is often overlooked by society, but Brent brings this unheralded toil into the light. The work highlights the tenderness, love, and playfulness of motherhood while also recognizing the stress and weight of such a task. Child rearing can’t be contained neatly in a canvas—it rushes forward, overflowing, demanding that it be seen.
Tanya Gomelskaya, Unrest (2023)
Gomelskaya’s works are magnificently unsettling and often unable to be contained in their frames. Unrest features a woman with brown hair who rests her head on her outstretched arms in an oval gold frame. Her arms stretch forward and her hands, placed on top of each other, protrude from the canvas, lightly resting over the bottom of the frame. The hands, made of epoxy clay, are highly detailed. The tips of the fingers are red, while the back of the hands are pale, with bluish veins running across them. The work captures the woman, as the title suggests, embroiled in a moment of turmoil. Faced with despair or unease, she bows her head in a show of defeat. The work is raw with emotion, and the outstretched hands pull the viewer in closer for a better look.
These works push physical boundaries by leaving their frames and canvases behind, entering into the world of the viewer. The resulting pieces are compelling and inviting. From depicting beautiful messes to exploring feminine roles, these works stretch our understanding of the world around us by expanding beyond the confines of their frames.
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