Frank To creates paintings inspired by a story attributed to the Renaissance sculptor, Michelangelo. It was said Michelangelo could visualize the human form within a block of marble. Frank similarly, teases out figures from initially abstract images. It means he works in two distinct ways on a painting: first, he uses broad, sweeping strokes to create the abstract starting point. Then he uses much more precise brushwork to turn the abstract into some much more figurative. This shows great playfulness, skill and maturity with paint.
"What's interesting is that there is no initial intent or planning in the making of the work. I have to rely on instinct and improvisation to bring out form from the abstract. That's what makes the whole process exciting. " - Frank To
The painting begins as an abstract piece. There is no form or structure. It is a painting full of brush gestures and colours. Although this is the first stage, the piece is actually a finished abstract painting, not an undercoat.
A soft transparent glaze is applied onto the abstract piece.
The painting is then laid on the floor and turpentine is flicked onto the wet painting surface. This slightly dissolves the recent- applied glaze coat.
Once the glaze coat is dried, another transparent glaze of a darker colour is applied onto the painting.
Turpentine is flicked on the second glaze coat. This creates a "grittier" surface on the painting.
Once dried, a much darker glaze is applied.
Flicks of diluted white paint is flicked onto the freshly painted glaze. This allows the colours to interact as well as dissolving the recent glaze coat.
The third coat is then squelched evenly with a painting tool. This gives the painting the final desired working surface.
Once the painting is dried, the artist then carefully examines the surface, trying to visualise the human form. Once a mental image is established, the artist then brings out the form out of the painted surface.
Paint is then applied onto the background around the established human form.
Evidence of the previous abstract layer is brought out subtlety. Paint is first applied only to be removed again. The purpose of this is to "stain" the old layers and then gently even it out with a soft transparent glaze.
The human form is worked on and manipulated alongside with the background.