Martin West Bespoke Art Services
With staff experience in the art industry at 20 years, Martin West Bespoke Art Services is the company to go to for your bespoke framing needs. Proprietors Martin West and Aisha Spence run the workshop from the heart of West Dulwich, meaning the company’s services are easily accessible. They hold an excellent reputation, with a long list of satisfied clients to attest to their superior craftsmanship, attention to detail, clear communication, honesty and integrity. Aside from working with a number of Central London picture framers, it is most notable that Martin was the manager of Academy Framing from 2011-14 and is now the Official Recommended Framer of the Royal Academy of Arts.
Although the staff have plenty of experience, the business of Martin West Bespoke Art Services has not been around for long. It first came into existence a year ago, when - what seemed like an unfortunate event at the time - working at the Royal Academy of Arts, Martin and his team were made redundant. Martin had been head of the framing department for nearly three years when the redundancies took place, due to lack of space while building works were carried out to connect Burlington Gardens to Burlington House. For many, redundancy would be a trying time, but Martin took full advantage of it and explains: “With my experience and knowledge in the trade and my love for interacting with the public, I saw this event as a positive and decided to set up my own picture framing business.” Martin already had a ready-made client base in and around Mayfair and St. James’, accounts set up with suppliers and a strong relationship with the Royal Academy. “I knew it would be successful by the amount of phone calls I received from other framing establishments, once they got wind of the closure, offering me a job or space in their workshops!” Martin goes on to say. Unfortunately, setting up in Mayfair was far too expensive, so Martin’s plan was to find a showroom and workshop in an area that was still accessible for his Central London customers to visit and easier for him to get back into London, to collect and drop off finished work.
Martin has been framing since 1994. He was first introduced to it after a friend who worked at a picture framer's in South Kensington told him there was a vacancy for a shop assistant/apprentice. Martin had always been interested in art, having previously obtained a National Diploma in Design and worked for five years in the Visual Merchandising team at Fortnum and Mason's. Martin tells us: “I fell in love with the practical side of framing, as well as the creative side. I really enjoyed choosing the mouldings and mount colours with customers to bring out the best in their artwork. The best part of the job is when they return to collect it and you see a huge smile on their face!”
Martin carried on working in the field for a number of years and was lucky enough to work in framers all over Central London - many of which no longer exist or have been bought out by friends of his - right up until he saw the vacancy for the Royal Academy post in 2011. In his spare time, Martin also enjoys painting and drawing, but this is for pleasure more than business - although he has been known to have done a few commissions in his time. Aisha Spence was brought in to the company in August, 2014 to primarily help with the day-to-day running of the business, but has since proved to be a fantastic apprentice. She now completes up to 80% of the hand finishes and Martin’s aim is for her to become a full partner in the next year or so.
Martin’s goal at Martin West Bespoke Art Services is to not only help you design and create the ideal picture frame to display your artwork, but to make the process easy and enjoyable for you. The company is focused on providing clients with the highest levels of customer satisfaction and will do everything they can to meet expectations. Along with Martin’s experience, the rest of the staff are all exceptionally experienced too in what they do, so using Martin West Bespoke Art Services means a relaxed wait for the finished results.
The paper conservator at Martin’s was a British Museum Conservation Officer in the Department of Western Pictorial Art and is proficient in the conservation and restoration of old master prints and drawings, with a wide experience of working on the following: 19th century prints, watercolours, drawings, miniatures on ivory and copper, pastels and chalk drawings, modern works of art, including Inkjet prints, textiles and various mixed media, parchment and wax. To mention just one section of Martin West’s client base, thanks to the paper conservator, they include: Alan Cristea, The Mayor Gallery, Bernard Jacobson Galleries and major historical institutions.
The company also has a number of employees who have experience with other major institutes - for example, a ceramics restorer, who spent 17 years at the British Museum and was Chief Conservation Officer in the ceramics department and is highly skilled in the following areas: ceramics - including decorative tiles; glass and enamels - as in jewellery and miniatures; tortoiseshell, ivory, papier-mache, treen, antique fans and fabric artefacts from pre-history to present time. Another experienced sector is the Courtauld Institute trained and National Trust Accredited oil restorers, who between them have many years’ experience at the highest end of the art restoration industry working for many museums and galleries including: The Royal Academy of Arts, The National Portrait Gallery, The National Gallery, The Royal Collection Trust, The National Trust and The V&A.
Thinking of the art
Martin West Bespoke Art Services only use conservation and archival materials in their framing process, meaning your artwork is protected and preserved for years to come, with the conservation and protection of your artwork of upmost importance to the company. There are many elements that can affect and damage your art ranging from sunlight, humidity, temperature change and handling. When it comes to sunlight damage, standard glass only has some UV filtration, so it is always recommended by the company that you glaze your artworks with a dedicated UV filtering product. Martin and his team can provide your frame with 99% UV filter reflective glass right through to museum standard anti-reflective water white glass and even museum standard, anti-scratch and anti-reflective acrylic - perspex. When constructing your frame and installing your artwork, the framers only use acid-free materials and seal the artwork to keep out insects and moisture to the best of their ability. The tapes and glues used are of conservation and museum standard and the art is handled with 100% cotton gloves. They only use acid-free mount boards and, where needed, 100% cotton rag boards, stocking the full range of Nielsen Bainbridge Artcare boards that boast 'micro-chamber' technology, which de-ionises the air inside your frame and is the only mount board on the market that has been tested and authenticated by the Library of Congress.
The company pride themselves on using only the finest timbers available for their wood mouldings. Whether you are in the market for the organic feel of a natural look, or a hand stained and waxed finish, Martin is confident that after a no obligation, full consultation, the companycan provide a solution to meet your framing requirements. Martin West Bespoke Art Services’ current wood mouldings consist of British oak (Quercus robur), pine (Pinus sylvestris), obeche (Triplochiton scleroxylon), beech (Fagus sylvatica), ash (Fagus sylvatica), lime (Tilia vulgaris), tulip (Liriodendron tulipifera), cherrywood (Prunus avium) and American black walnut (Juglans nigra).
All natural wood frames are cut, joined, sanded, stained and waxed by hand to give a truly unique finish in the traditional workshop. The profiles range from the simple and contemporary, right through to the classic, swept and ornate.
The art of gilding has existed since the dawn of modern civilisation and rooted within the ancient Egyptian culture. It was refined during the Renaissance period and it is this technique of water gilding they apply to your picture frames. Gilding is done exclusively by Mr Dave Hegarty, who for 15 years, was Head Framer and in-house gilder at the prestigious Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly, London. His finishes have no equal and can be applied to any profiles. Often working with gold leaf, the company offer a variety but generally work with 22K yellow gold, 23K moon - rose - gold and 12K white gold. Each frame is painstakingly sanded, gessoed and gilded to perfection.
“No two days are the same at work and with each project, new challenges arise and we thrive on providing solutions for peoples’ framing requirements,” Martin tells us. However, there are a few jobs over the years that stick out as favourites: “I once had to frame Britney Spears' school shirt, which was worn in her first music video!” In more recent times and when Martin first started at the Royal Academy of Arts, his team were responsible for framing three of nine panels by David Hockney, which had arrived from America unframed. The challenge for the team was to source the same Spanish cedar (Cedrela odorata) as the existing moulding, construct the frames and install the artwork in a time space of three days, before the exhibition opened. Needless to say, the group achieved it and no one would ever have guessed!
Presently, Martin’s business is involved in two projects and they are proving to be very enjoyable. These are the framing of a portrait of Bishop Graeme Knowles, by the BBC's Big Painting Challenge judge Daphne Todd to hang in the Chapter House of St. Paul's Cathedral, and the investigation and possible authentication of a Modigliani, on behalf of one of their private clients. The latter involves coordinating a team of restorers and gathering as much evidence as possible, such as X-rays, infra red photos and pigment samples to present to the authorities on this artist. It certainly sounds like exciting times are ahead for Martin, Aisha and the team!
At the end of 2014, Martin West Bespoke Art Services won the tender to become the Official Framing Partner of the Royal Academy and with this accreditation, Martin believes they have the potential take the business as far as he would like to in 2015 and beyond. Martin admits: “We are already finding it hard to accomplish our deadlines without working 12 hour days, seven days a week. So, we will definitely be looking to expand and possibly employ one or two experienced framers should the need arise.” Ultimately, and once the building works are completed at the Royal Academy of Arts, the icing on the cake for Martin would be to take an on-site framing service back to the Royal Academy to continue a tradition that had been there for the past 30 years.