Frame of mind

ALL SORTS: Artist and picture framer Sam Broad in his Lower Hutt studio.
ALL SORTS: Artist and picture framer Sam Broad in his Lower Hutt studio.

Renee Gerlich visits the workshop of unorthodox Wellington picture framer and print-maker Sam Broad.

Peering around his workshop, it looks like Sam Broad has raided a Tim Burton film set or an abandoned fairground.

The man himself sports a neatly twirled Dali moustache, a notoriously animated demeanour and certain mischievous twinkle in the eye.

Qualities perhaps unexpected of a picture framer, someone in the business of preserving precious objects with painstaking precision and patience.

There is a "Haunted House" pinball machine in the corner of his workshop, with drippy, green-and-black font; and about a dozen shelves cluttered with comics, books and vinyl, legomen, kitsch plastic toys, 50s board games and an old accordion.

It's a dusting nightmare, but everything seems to belong. If I pocketed the porcelain matador on the windowsill as I left, I'm sure I'd get a call before reaching the end of the driveway.

Broad has been listening to a podcast by anthropologist and anarchist David Graeber (Debt: The First 5000 Years), which he switches off after a bit of a rant on capitalist economics, to launch into his story.

He began printmaking at Inverlochy Art School, and became impressed by Wellington picture framer David Strauss' framing of his work. Strauss "had such exciting ways of presenting my art. [He] lifted the game," says Broad.

So with the support of the Winz Enterprise Allowance and Business Skills course, and some second-hand purchases from closing-down framers, Broad joined the game. "A huge part of my trade is through word of mouth," he says, seeming heartened. Broad was quickly framing for around 100 patrons from his converted garage.

"Customers will introduce me to new artists," he continues. "I've got this repertoire of interesting stuff I've framed, like . . . Italian barbarian porn. I got to frame that one in black velvet.

"People bring in tapa cloths, jigsaws, embroidery, movie prosthetics, or pictures of themselves butt naked and pregnant - quite private things."

He tells me about the beautiful moon photographs he framed for the Adam Art Gallery, a loyal client.

The list is just the kind of unexpected assemblage hoarded around us, and pictured in Broad's artwork, a selection of which is on display at Solander Gallery until February 23.

Broad shows me Colony Collapse Disorder, named after the dissolution of bee colonies. Within a carnivalesque design, the woodcut combines buzzy bees, robots, monster trucks, candy spacemen and pac men roasting marshmallows over a burning tyre.

"It's an apocalypse," Broad explains, "but it's a fun apocalypse."

Broad is intrigued by the "militarism of childhood toys", particularly the industrious buzzy bee, and lets them loose on his woodblocks with comic and packaging typography, political concerns and kitsch cultural icons.

While at first glance the pictures are explosive - on closer inspection, they are detailed and patiently designed. Explaining his interest in manufactured toys, Broad suddenly points to a shelf.

"Toys have got this provenance.

"They should be worn, and scribbled on, with the hands chewed. Nothing should be sacred, nothing lasts forever... "

I feel the need to interrupt.

"It seems you've got this iconoclastic, anarchistic, boundless spirit," I tell Broad, whose eyebrows are raised in surprise.

"But you spend most of your time sitting in your garage, putting things meticulously into boxes for preservation. Why?"

"I appreciate that these things have been made by someone's hands," Broad replies.

"Even the most mass-produced item has been made by humans, and someone's had to sit down and work it out. That's the problem with the sterilised aesthetic of the iPad or the Nike shoe. They don't look handmade, and they are." He talks about sweatshop working conditions.

"I wish everyone could have satisfaction in their work like I have, a liveable environment, and access to other people and ideas."

So it seems the paintings, photos, tapa cloths and Italian barbarian porn tucked away in the drawers in Broad's workshop are indeed in safe and devoted hands.

I get the feeling that if a cat so much as came in here and sneezed while Broad was working, it might soon find itself with a pair of glass eyes, stuffed and on display between a plastic Yoda and Captain Planet.

"Whether it's a greenstone mere or a plastic robot, you have to venerate the people who have made it. There are people behind every object. That's why I can happily play here in my own little world. It's a . . . treat, isn't it?"

Sam Broad's Paper, Scissors, Rock and Roll, Solander Gallery, Wellington, till February 23. 

The Dominion Post