Falmouth Navigator Article

From the Falmouth Navigator: magazine of University College Falmouth

Frank, fearless and free

Clio Millett Published: Thursday, May 5, 2005

Three never-before-seen illustrations by the neglected Glasgow artist Hannah Frank are currently on show as part of an exhibition at the Falmouth Art Gallery. The pictures contribute to the Gallery’s spring opener, the rather wincingly-entitled “Tree-mendous” exhibition, whose name perhaps belies the importance of the works on show.

Prestigious loans, including work by John Constable, Henry Scott Tuke and Paul Mount, feature alongside a raft of local artists in this showcase exploring man’s relationship with the leafier species.

The daughter of Jewish Russian immigrants fleeing their homeland to escape persecution, Frank was born in Glasgow in 1908. Growing up in the Laurieston district of the Gorbals, she graduated from the University of Glasgow, later attending the famed Glasgow School Of Art where she discovered a latent talent for sculpture. Her artistic career spans 75 years, her life 97, across a tumultuous century when so much has been lost. The pictures, however, remain: a thin pen-and-ink rendering of the past.

These black and white illustrations – harking back to Art Nouveau with their elongated structures, medieval romanticism and melancholy air – are instantly recognisable. Like any artist of the age, Frank was clearly influenced by that master of monochrome Aubrey Beardsley (as well as her inherited legacy of the Glasgow School) and yet her style is unmistakably
her own.

Her works seem to betray the hand of someone haunted, perhaps by her years lived between two world wars: the plight of the refugees, the Jews, her brothers in the army, and these tense times appear reflected in the designs. Danger waits, in the wings.

And yet there is hope there too – in this linear midnight world of characters who stand luminous and pale against their shadowy backgrounds. Such illustrations contrast starkly with the sculptures which Frank later became known for: bare, muscular bronze casts invoking Henry Moore.

Deeply influenced by poetry, Frank illustrated and penned her own verse. “I did like melancholy poems,” she recalls, “There was one; ‘O melancholy, turn thine eyes away’… Poetry doesn’t carry happy, cheery messages.” A result of what she modestly referred to as “being very romantic but not very pretty”, she would spend hours alone, sketching and daydreaming over various loves. Perhaps in a nod to this, many of her earlier works were signed “Al Aaraaf”- an appropriation from Edgar Allan Poe’s cosmic poem about two lovers who live on a star.

Brian Stewart, the curator of the Falmouth Art Gallery and already an admirer of Frank’s work, was only too happy to include her pieces in the upcoming show. Encompassing the exhibition with a sweep of his arm, he describes his plans for her illustrations. “We have six pictures in total although only two are currently on display. I’m intending to rotate them as the show goes on – it all depends on the mounts.”

Those currently available for viewing are “Adam and Eve” (1930); an unfinished work, and “There Sits Repentance” (1925), both of which have been published before, though Stewart hopes the unseen works will later get their airing.

It is the artist’s niece, Fiona Frank, who emerges as the person responsible for bringing so much of Hannah’s work to public attention, working tirelessly to promote her aunt’s creations in a succession of galleries and broadcast shows. “My aunt, who’s in good health, is very happy with all this attention she’s getting at this stage in her life – though having to walk through a gallery four times while the TV cameras were rolling to ‘get it right’ made her feel that the price of fame might
be a little too high.”

One book has already been published – Hannah Frank: A Glasgow Artist- Drawings And Sculpture – but so many lost articles have recently been recovered that another is now in the making. “I am planning a new book,” says Fiona, “of my aunt’s poetry, diaries, and the unpublished drawings and sculptures that we’ve found since the [first] book went to press.”

What precisely will become of this body of work is unknown; whether it might become part of a permanent gallery exhibition or dispersed among relatives had not yet been decided. Much of the collection is already on show at the retirement home in Glasgow where Hannah now lives, to the admiration of visitors and residents alike.

The artist’s personal desire for her life’s works are, however, all the more clear: “I want them to be the footprints on the sands of time. As long as people remember them and know them, then I feel as if I’m still alive.”

A website dedicated to the work of Hannah Frank, respected Glasgow artist and sculptor. All images copyright Hannah Frank. Reproduction needs prior written permission. Contact Fiona Frank (tel/email below) with your requirements.

Fiona Frank, tel (+44) (0)7778 737681 email  [email protected]