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Friday, May 26, 2017

Fence Art

The tromp l'oeil neighbor.

"Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

                                                      -- MENDING WALL, Robert Frost

Making fences look "friendly"
If the best that can be said of fences is that they make "good neighbors" then they must not be all that good, and quite possibly in need of an artist's touch. Moreover, if the Mexicans are any indication, even the best fence President Trump could build (regardless of who pays for it) would likely make us rather bad neighbors. Notwithstanding Robert Frost's dissertation on the subject, the whole concept may be flawed.

Think of a fence as a blank canvas.
Sometime ago I wrote on the subject of walls. At the time, we were having a retaining wall I'd designed built in our front yard in order to mitigate a steep area in which we'd been unable to grow presentable landscaping. There is a world of difference between walls and fences. Walls today are mostly used to tame topography for a more attractive appearance and to accommodate extreme difference in elevations for all sorts of practical reasons. Fences, on the other hand, as Frost suggests, are designed to keep living beings in their place. With few exceptions, fences are ugly both figuratively and in fact. I suppose they do have their place and a valid purpose, but seldom are they attractive, much less artistic.
The key to a "good" fence is ingenuity.
Unlike the item I wrote on walls, this is now a "how to" discourse on building fences. Instead, this is about taking something that is often inherently unsightly, and using an artist's creative impulses to make it less so...perhaps even a thing of beauty. Such an effort has two approaches. The first is the most difficult, designing the fence itself to be a work of art while still serving its purpose. The second approach is to simply decorate, as with live plants and/or recycled items (above) aiming to somewhat mitigate the inherently unappealing fence in an attempt to mitigate its natural repulsiveness.
Such an image might be framed and hung on a fence,
or perhaps better still, painted on the fence itself.
Often such goals can be accomplished with a simple bit of sophisticated humor as in the nosy, tromp l'oeil bovine (top), or a mural akin to Pere Borrel del Caso's 1874 street urchin Escaping Criticism (above). Modernizing the boy might be fun, or if the artist can pull it off, perhaps painting a portrait of a particularly obnoxious neighbor (of any age). Artists today can even purchase indoor-outdoor stretched canvases (below) designed to resist weather conditions. Just be sure they're firmly attached to the wall making theft less likely. Such items are available with or without images and range upward from $200 in price.
The upper-left image is a painting, the one at lower-right
is a photograph.
The paintings above are Giclee prints on canvas, from high-resolution photographic images, gallery-wrapped over poly vinyl stretchers. The canvas images are said to withstand sun, wind, and rain. They also have a special UV coating to protect against fading. Giclee artworks are created using fade-resistant "archival" inks. Such artwork is scanned or digitally photographed, then printed individually using a high resolution printer. Canvases may be cleaned with any non-abrasive wiping material. These two and others are featured at

The effect is both fascinating and disconcerting...
not to mention dangerous when intoxicated.
Another new development in the art of fencing is the work of Brooklyn, NY artist Alyson Shotz (above). With her mirror surfaces, Shotz attempts to make her picket fences virtually disappear. Simple in its execution and an interesting as a work of art, (though far from inexpensive), the concept of the mirror fence would be useful in any situation where there is need for a separation of space, but with a conflicting desire for subtlety from a visitor’s perspective. Whether disguising, decorating, or mitigating a fence, artists such as Strotz have a distinct advantage over the ordinary DIY homeowner. Perhaps not every artist could handle a tromp l'oeil mural on a board fence, but most could draw and paint a scene involving cartoon cats and dogs (below).

Another advantage artists have--vivid imaginations.
If you own a swimming pool you need a fence, for the sake of safety, if not privacy. Walls are difficult top enhance. Fences around a pool are near impossible to disguise. Moreover, anyone who can afford the money pit of a swimming pool, is going to be hard pressed to afford much more than butt-ugly chain link fencing. One answer to such a dilemma might be sturdy wooden or masonry posts flanking plywood screens as seen below. They might not afford much privacy but they would serve the purpose of keeping out unaccompanied neighborhood munchkins.

This pool screen includes a wall but treated wooden
posts (4"x4") could also serve as supports.

Fence supports as functional as they are attractive.

I know, it's not a fence, but it would make
any fence or wall it might decorate much
more attractive. And it absolutely screams
a creative art genius lives here.


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