SIR TERRY FROST, RA (British, 1915-2003)
Signed and dated 60
Watercolour with brush and ink
Captain de Pass; Christies London, June 7th 1991, lot 335
SIR TERRY FROST, R.A. (British, 1915-2003) Sir Terry Frost was one of Britain's most respected and successful abstract artists, his work spanning six decades until his death in 2003. Painting and printmaking were always at the centre in Frost's work: for him painting and printing were inseparable, with one medium creating ideas for the other. From observation of nature he developed a repertoire of recurrent forms and vibrant colour. He was elected a Royal Academician in 1992 and knighted in 1998. Terence Frost was born in 1915 at Leamington Spa. His grandparents, who ran the last bath-chair business in the town, brought him up. He was educated at Leamington Spa Central School where he edited the art magazine, but left at 15 to work in a cycle shop, an electrical wholesaler in Birmingham and at Armstrong Whitworth, where he painted the red, white and blue targets onto fighter planes. During the Second World War Frost served in France, Palestine, Lebanon and, with the Commandos, in Sudan and Crete, where he was captured in June 1941. Frost was later to say: "In prisoner-of-war camp I got tremendous spiritual experience, a more aware or heightened perception during starvation, and I honestly do not think that that awakening has ever left me." He began to draw and paint, mainly portraits of his fellow PoWs, encouraged by the young artist Adrian Heath. They made brushes from horsehair, canvases from their pillows, and mixed what pigments they could get with the oil from sardine tins. "Prison camp was my university," Frost said. It was Heath who suggested that Frost go to art school when the war came to an end, and who helped him to get an ex-serviceman's grant and, in 1947, a place at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts. It was Heath, too, who encouraged him to make his home at St Ives in Cornwall. William Coldstream was then head of painting, assisted by Claude Rogers, Pasmore and Lawrence Gowing. Pasmore, something of a maverick, urged him to skip the rigours of the Camberwell life class in favour of spending time in the National Gallery where he learnt lessons in rhythm and colour and formal organisation that stayed with him all his life. With Pasmore's encouragement, the older artist was moving decisively towards abstraction in his own work at this time. After Camberwell, Frost returned to St Ives where he worked as Hepworth's assistant on Contrapuntal Forms (1951) for the Festival of Britain and became friendly with the shrewd Nicholson, who taught him about Cubism without ever committing anything to paper. Frost travelled to Paris to study with Roger Hilton, became friendly with Peter Lanyon and Patrick Heron and continued to visit Pasmore and Heath. His early work was figurative, though it included objects simplified into coloured shapes. From 1952 to 1954 he taught at the Bath Academy of Art at Corsham Court, where William Scott was head of painting and where Heath, Wynter and Lanyon also taught. In 1952 Frost held his first one-man exhibition at the Leicester Galleries. In 1953 the artist and critic Patrick Heron included Frost, Hilton, Lanyon and Pasmore in the exhibition Space in Colour at the Hanover Gallery, London, and in 1954 Frost featured in Lawrence Alloway's influential book Nine Abstract Artists. In the same year he was awarded a Gregory Fellowship at Leeds University. He moved his family to Leeds, where they stayed until 1957, Frost additionally teaching at Leeds School of Art. It was in that city, through an exercise that he set the university architectural students, that he discovered the combination of red, white and black that gave rise to some of his strongest paintings. After a period as a visiting teacher at San Jose and Artist in Residence at Newcastle, Frost wanted to paint on a bigger canvas. In the famous Red, White and Black (1967), inspired by the Yorkshire moors, the two semi-circles were painted with the canvas on the floor and Frost standing over it, painting away from his body. He also painted on wood and, influenced by the Russian Constructivists, used collage in some works. However schematic it might sometimes seem, Frost's abstraction was always rooted in the world. Combining strict formal discipline with great expressive freedom and a natural sureness of touch, he sought objective visual equivalents for the sensations, the memories, the sense of wonder, that experience brings. The process was a complex one; there might be months or even years between a moment lived and its realisation in art. In 1974 Frost returned to Newlyn, Cornwall where he lived for the remainder of his life. He continued to travel, in 1976 with a one-man show that opened at the Serpentine Gallery; to Cyprus with the British Council; to Reading University, where he became Professor of Painting; and to Spain, his interest in which led him to illustrate 11 Poems of Federico Garcia Lorca (1989) A retrospective exhibition of his work was held at the Mayor Gallery, London in 1990 and in 2000 a major retrospective, 'Terry Frost: Six Decades', was held at the Royal Academy of Arts, London. Terry Frost was in his studio almost to the end, producing new work for an exhibition at Tate St Ives, the opening of which he was too ill to attend. Terry Frost died on 1st September 2003
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