Zoe Grams pays tribute to one of Glasgow’s most talented artists and illustrators, Hannah Frank.
As a school pupil, Hannah Frank wrote: “If they would leave the choice to me, I think I know what I would be. To be an artist my desire, I’d paint mere nymphs and ne’er would tire.” She has done exactly this.
Her work has been exhibited at the Royal Glasgow Institute, the Royal Academy, and the Royal Scottish Academy amongst others, but after a tour to celebrate her 100th birthday, her collection has returned to its home: the University of Glasgow.
A native-born to Glasgow after her Jewish parents emigrated from Russia in the late 19th century to avoid persecution, Frank has lived in the city throughout her 100 years, significantly contributing to the Jewish and art communities here. She attended university to study English and Latin, and took night classes at the School of Art where she studied with the likes of Benno Schotz and Paul Zunterstein. From 17 she produced a variety of pen and ink drawings before working solely in sculpture after 1952. Many of her works were published in GUM between 1927 and 1932.
Her images reflect the Art Nouveau period, holding many characteristics you would expect of work from this time. Yet there’s an unusual quality to Frank’s work, one that you can’t quite put your finger on. Each image seems so familiar it could have been seen dozens of times before, even when new to the viewer. They feel timeless, depicting what could be a medieval gathering, a Greek myth, a fairytale, or a victorian tryst. They apply to every story of revenge or romance you have heard.
Arguably, the influence of poetry on her work is partially responsible for this. An avid reader, and poet herself, Frank took inspiration from poets, and her creation of the drawings was inseperably intertwined with the creation of poetry. She would say poems to herself in her room at night, and see images at the same time.
As a result, there is an otherworldly quality to the drawings. They show a variety of atmospheres, yet belong to none. Long, spindly, androdynous yet feminine creatures are painted with fluid, almost languid lines. Flowers litter the ground or decorate the creatures’ cloaks as they swoosh into darkness. Shadowy figures emerge from or shrink into the background with just one well-placed white line.
Even at 100, Frank has a dry, knowing sense of humour. Her vitality during her teenage years and 20s has been carried into her work to such an extent that they still feel young, relevant and current. There’s a wisdom, and a cheekiness, to them: a combination that’s seldom seen.
Every drawing submitted to GUM was done so under her pseudonym Al Aaraaf: a reference to a poem by Edgar Allen Poe describing a star that suddenly appeared in the night sky, growing brighter than Venus, only to disappear suddenly. A young Frank considered this to be apt to her. There’s no doubt that as a teenager Frank was thoughtful, creativeand extremely talented. But perhaps she wasn’t as insightful in the creation of her pen name as she was in the rest of her work.
Her last sculpture was done at 94 years old. She moved into a care home in 2002 where her works are still displayed. She has not burnt strong and quick only to have then extinguished: her talent continues to be a steady glow in Glasgow after 100 years.
Update: Sadly, Hannah passed away shortly after this article was published earlier this year. Our thoughts are with her friends and family at this difficult time.
Hannah Frank : 1908-2008