An artistic viewpoint by Frank To

The closest most of us get to professional football is a second-half aneurysm on match day when it seems like there is no justice in the world.

The new collection from Glasgow artist Frank To looks at what motivates people to become professional footballers and (recently) sold out the Glasgow Art Fair.

“I interviewed various Scottish footballers and professional football organisations for my project. Those I have interviewed include Partick Thistle Football Club, Ludovic Roy from Queen of The South, Peter Cormack, the PFA Scotland (Professional Footballer’s Association Scotland), and others.”

“I felt it was important to actually understand them and their experience with Scottish football. I suppose the main reason why I decided to take this project on was that throughout my teenage and student life, I avoided football completely, mainly due to me being in a Roman Catholic School where the Old Firm was a major issue. Also when I was student, I did experience the hostile atmosphere in Glasgow City Centre whenever there was an Old Firm game on. It was only recently I heard on the radio that fans were “entitled” to hurl verbal/ emotional abuse to footballers as they in theory pay their salaries. This caught my attention. It was then I decided to undergo this project to understand the life, influence and drive of a Scottish footballer.”

“So overall, I tackled a very ‘Scottish’ issue. I think it hit an emotional chord with the audience at the Glasgow Art Fair. It ultimately led the entire new series work selling out. The work was selling before the art fair opened. Am I pleased? I am in a way, but I haven’t dwelled on it too much. I’m so busy with work and deadlines that I don’t have time to celebrate past glories or recent success. I suppose in a way, it also humbles me.”

To’s artistic eye developed early on in his childhood, inspired by his mother’s creative pursuits.

“I remember from a very early age, I was always drawing. I think this interest was due to my mother who is also very artistic. She was more trained in Chinese painting, but still had a good eye for observation. I think I was three or four years old when I looked at the way my mother drew Mickey Mouse on a mini blackboard. I think her love of art rubbed off on me when I was little.”

Inspiration can come in many forms, and To’s motivation has evolved over the years, both naturally and through research.

“I suppose what first inspired my work was my emotions. I used to express my personal feelings which would vary from love to hate. A lot of my early work from my sixth year Advance Higher Art to my first year of my Fine Art Degree had this surreal fantasy imagery. They were awful! It was only in my final year of my degree that my work drew inspiration from literature, post modernism and alchemy. There was still the emotional element in my work, but a lot more ‘controlled‘. One could compare it to the Jedi’s philosophy; controlling one’s emotions.

“What inspires me now widely varies. I suppose I draw my current inspiration from history, aesthetics, mythology and personal life experiences such as relationships, being bullied… In my spare time I work on abstract paintings. These are very expressive and highly emotional pieces. What I’m trying to portray is the dark side of my personality. The only way I can engage fully is by using method acting; where the actor tries to replicate real life emotional conditions of the character. I’m also doing some personal research on Carl Jung’s theory of the Shadow Side in the human mind. I just find the whole topic fascinating.”

To was born in Falkirk, to parents of Chinese descent, moving to Glasgow when he was seven. Growing up in Scotland, he found homegrown artistic talent to look up to.

“There are two Scottish artists who I strongly admire. One is my Masters tutor, Calum Colvin. Calum does these beautiful photographs of optical illusions that involve imagery on three dimensional objects. He then forms the image as a whole with the camera lens. To me, Calum is the master of illusions.

“Another Scottish artist who I have strong admiration for is Alison Watt. She is such an amazing painter and is not afraid go bold and massive in scale with her work. She is also one of the very few Scottish painters who is strongly respected in her own right and does not engage in publicity stunts to boast her credibility… To me, Alison Watt is probably Scotland’s best painter today.”

It took time away from the studio for To to realise his future was as a full- time artist.

“I took a sandwich year between my second and final year of my degree. For about four months, I didn’t have a studio. It was during that time I felt empty. It was then I realised that I was destined to have a career in painting.”

The gamble seems to be paying off so far, with To’s work catching the eye of the industry, the media and celebrities. Sir Patrick Stewart is a well-known fan, turned friend and mentor, of Frank To.

“Sir Patrick Stewart became the chancellor of the University of Huddersfield when I was in my final year of my degree. He came in unannounced to see my work. From what I can tell he was impressed… We got talking in detail about my work and he took one of my cards.

“He contacted me by email a year later, when I was studying for my Masters in Dundee, saying he wanted to buy one of my paintings. I thought it was one of my friends playing a joke. I actually went online to find his official fan website and sent an email to his office asking if it was a hoax. But it wasn’t. Patrick now has several of my paintings. He has an amazing art collection.”

Finally, what words of wisdom does To wish to pass on to upcoming or potential artists?

“One major piece of advice I would give to young budding artists is to believe in themselves. Try to find that “voice” makes them unique in the art world. Express themselves and be true on what they express. By having faith in your art and yourself is the one thing that nobody can take away from you.”

Words by Jamye Drohan

Photography by Malcom Cochrane and Ian Marshall


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