I was lucky to catch the last day of the Hannah Frank 110th Birthday Exhibition this week, on display at the University of Glasgow Memorial Chapel.
Consisting of a small selection of her work grouped according to three distinctive ‘eras’ of her style + printing templates and personal ephemera, it gave me plenty to immerse in as I entered her beautiful, often intricate world of black and white.
Her designs are ethereal and dreamy, exquisite in their confident lines that express so much, often in extreme simplicity.
Female portraits and sideways glances. Liquid eyes filled with sorrow or something deeper and more mysterious. Swarming tendrils of hair, a fish swimming through like it is instead seaweed on the ocean floor.
A weird spell cast by a wandering elf
That charms with fingers cold
Haunting and beautiful, I see a mother and a child in both the image above and below. I wonder if that is because I am viewing it through the filter of being a (relatively) new mum myself? Hannah Frank had no children so perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps they are nymphs or sprites or spirits or just beautiful, sad girls?
These intricate printing plates were a wonderful surprise I hadn’t expected to find. Their shimmering gold and silver surfaces added an even stronger Egyptian/Eastern flavour for me, and when one of the curators told me it was OK to touch them and even take etchings, I happily grabbed a pencil and paper.
The bird symbolism was strong, and I got the sense that the birds held an ominous portent.
The stars and florals and swirling shapes put me in mind of Mucha, and the masculine female faces and lettering of Alistair Gray. Art Nouveau influences wrought in fluid darkness.
Another allusion to Egyptology - the illustrated lines below published in the Glasgow University Magazine, Christmas 1934 - pictured in a cabinet alongside her official wedding invitation and other papers.
‘I am thy soul, Nikoptis.
I have read out the gold upon the wall,
And wearied out my thought upon the signs.
And there is no new thing in all this place. ‘
From the poem The Tomb At Akr Çaar by Ezra Pound.
I hadn’t realised before seeing this exhibition that Hannah Frank had turned her attention to sculpture in the 1950’s. Well-expressed female forms in plaster and bronze, they often had long, regal necks, again quite Egyptian in style.
I like the relaxed, casual poses they strike, although I think I prefer her black and white drawings the best, for which she is probably better known.
From the very beginning of her career, her style was so obviously hers. Undeniably so. Distinctive and pure.
This is a lesson I needed to see because I’ve struggled to hone my own identify as an artist, purely because I enjoy trying lots of different styles of work.
Success comes from recognition and that can only truly occur when as an artist, you focus, focus, focus and hone in on your specific niche. Thank you Hannah Frank for this nugget of gold!
I did once ‘meet’ Hannah in person - at her 100th birthday exhibition, just before she died.
What a fantastic, spirited and talented woman she was.
Please note, this exhibition is now finished, though there are some signed prints left in the GU Shop. I couldn’t leave without buying the book!