Gunpowder drawing sees Frank at Royal Scottish Academy exhibition

Frank To

Fri, 29 Jul 2016 10:15:00 BST

“…I decided to go back to drawing, but to find a way to make it a bit more contemporary, and on the same level as painting...”

Frank To ALREADY noted for his intense, dramatic paintings, artist Frank To has developed an explosive new drawing technique.  He uses gunpowder…then sets fire to it.

It has resulted in pictures accepted for display at one of Europe’s most prestigious annual art exhibitions, where they have rapidly been snapped up by buyers.  And Frank reckons that his willingness to experiment with such a radical medium is down to the training he received during studies at the University of Huddersfield.

“Even though it was an honours degree it was a very practical course, almost like an apprentice scheme.  We were taught by artists who were very hands on and they encouraged you to be daring and take more risks,” said Glasgow-based Frank, who graduated in fine art from Huddersfield in 2004.

His burgeoning reputation has been based on large oil paintings.  They include a canvas titled Fallen that made a huge impression on famous actor Sir Patrick Stewart.  Sir Patrick accepted it as a gift to the University of ‌Huddersfield, when he retired as its Chancellor in 2015 - see video above.

When Frank To made his first ever submission to the annual open exhibition of the Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) in Edinburgh, he decided that he would produce drawings rather than paintings.

“The last time I drew anything of any worth was at the University of Huddersfield,” he said.  “So I decided to go back to drawing, but find a way to make it a bit more contemporary, and on the same level as painting.”

Frank To He hit on the idea of using gunpowder for his drawings and then – in carefully controlled conditions – igniting it, so that the image is powerfully transformed.  He quickly learned that he needed to use heavy gauge, handmade paper, and he also used chemicals to control the rate of explosion.  Despite his precautions, he succeeded in scorching an arm.

Frank has posted an online video that shows some of the risks, but he is guarded about the details of the technique and the formulation of his powder, largely because he does not want to be responsible for accidents resulting from anyone else trying the method.

By combining gunpowder and drawing he produced highly atmospheric pictures that were accepted, against very heavy competition, for the RSA’s annual exhibition.  Unusually, both of his drawings were selected by the panel of expert judges.

They are A3-sized images, mysterious and evocative.  One, depicting a woman, is titled Morningless, and the otheris Black Rabbit of Inlé – the name of a character in Watership Down – see both drawings below.

“Gunpowder was used by landowners to control rabbits on their estates, so I thought it would be appropriate to do the black rabbit of death in gunpowder!” said Frank.

The RSA exhibition runs until 30 August – coinciding with the Edinburgh Festival – but both of Frank’s gunpowder pictures have  already found buyers and he has received commissions for new picture using the same technique.

“It has caught people’s imaginations.  So now I am trying to meet demand,” said Frank.


Frank To

Black Rabbit of Inlé

Frank To



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