Falkirk-born artist in prestigious London exhibition
Falkirk-born artist Frank To will be exhibiting his new work in London later this month and is also busy teaching actor Sir Patrick Stewart.
Some people are born lucky while others make their own and Frank certainly falls into the latter category.
The artist made a name for himself before he even finished his degree course in art at the University of Huddersfield in 2004.
Aged just 19, he was so determined to make a success of his career that he sent 500 portfolios out to art galleries all across the UK.
Fifteen replied and five agreed to show his work.
And thanks to a gallery in London, his work was displayed at the London Art Fair in Islington.
Within an hour of the private viewing for patrons, all of his 15 contemporary, figurative oil paintings had been sold.
Capitalising on that success, Frank obtained grants from the Business Gateway and Prince’s Trust so he was self-employed immediately after gaining his art degree.
He said: “If you are given an opportunity, you have to exploit it – so I did!
“Thanks to those grants and the income from the sale of the paintings, I had all the finances in place to get going on my own art work.
“That show meant other galleries took notice of my work too and I started getting offers from those that had initially rejected me.”
During his time at Huddersfield, he also made a famous connection which was to stand him in good stead for the future.
Actor Sir Patrick Stewart was appointed chancellor of the university in 2003.
While he couldn’t attend the degree art show opening night in May 2004, the Star Trek and X-Men star asked for a private viewing.
Frank takes up the story: “I had the highest score of the year so was out partying the night before.
“The next day, I was lying on the floor in the uni, recovering, when I was asked if I would talk to Sir Patrick!
“We ended up talking for half an hour. I was doing big paintings at the time and he said he was blown away by the sheer impact of them.”
Frank gave the actor his business card and thought no more about it.
But a year later, while studing for his Masters in Fine Art at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee, Frank received an email – from Sir Patrick.
“I didn’t believe it was actually him but, after getting in touch with his official website, it turned out it was,” he said.
Sir Patrick invited Frank down to London to view and buy some of his work and he has been a staunch supporter since.
Frank is now also giving the actor art lessons.
“His wife Sunny bought him a set of watercolours and he really enjoyed it,” he said.
“But Sir Patrick approached me because he wanted to get better.
“It would be difficult for him to go to an ordinary class so we’ve been doing long-distance learning online.”
While the association with Sir Patrick has undoubtedly helped Frank’s career, there’s little doubt the 36-year-old is a self-made success story.
He knew how difficult it would be to find studio space in Glasgow so, two years before he left Huddersfield, he put his name on the waiting list – and secured a studio just as he graduated.
And he thanks his mum Winnie for instilling in him – and his siblings Raymond (35) and Florence (32) – the drive to succeed.
He said: “My mum is self employed. She told us to take every opportunity that presented itself and to never settle for a quick gain or rest on our laurels.
“She told us to aim high and to strive to succeed – it’s been a very good philosophy.”
Indeed, that motto is exactly why Frank is once again making headlines.
His new ground-breaking gunpowder copper art technique has proved an explosive success – and he has been accepted into the prestigious Royal Society of British Artists 2018 Exhibition in London.
He is the only Scottish male artist whose work has been selected out of more than 1500 entries this year.
It will go on show at the exhibition in Mall Galleries from March 21 to March 31.
Frank added: “I was going through a difficult time last year so I closed myself off and focused solely on my work.
“It gave me time to think and I started experimenting – that’s how it all came about.
“I fired and infused gunpowder onto copper plates and used jewellery tools to carve the images.
“Copper sheets were once used in print-making so the work is both traditional and contemporary.
“I’m surprised but delighted to be accepted by one of the oldest art institutions in the UK.”
From Children’s Day to STV
Born in Falkirk in 1982, Frank To spent the first seven years of his life in Grangemouth with his parents, who moved here from Hong Kong.
And from an early age, he was making headlines.
Frank said: “I went to Sacred Heart Primary School and, in 1989, I was a page boy in the town’s Children’s Day.
“I was the first ethnic minority child to be involved so that event was an early pioneer in terms of inclusion.”
After moving to Glasgow, Frank’s parents separated but he now calls the city, where his studio is based, home.
Having been born in Falkirk Royal Infirmary, though, he sees himself as a Falkirk Bairn.
“I have an affinity with the town,” he said. “The last time I was here someone who I’d been at school with recognised me. I couldn’t believe it!”
Frank graduated from the University of Huddersfield with a BA (Hons) Fine Art in 2004 before going on to gain a Masters of Fine Art from Duncan of Jordanstone Art College in 2005.
He is now doing a Masters post-graduate teaching course at Stirling University as he is also a lecturer at Perth College UHI and a part-time lecturer at Forth Valley College.
He firmly believes those who teach should be good at it.
He explained: “If students are having to pay tuition fees, they should receive a quality education. It angers me when I hear that they’re not.
“My tutors in Huddersfield were brilliant –they were so dedicated to their craft and instilled in us the idea of innovation and standing out from the crowd. That’s what a good tutor should do.”
In 2012, Frank was featured in the new RBS This Is Home TV and cinema commercial.
His work has also been featured in E4’s Made In Chelsea and STV’s Rebus.