Terry Frost 1915-2003


William and Boots Redgrave

Private Collection, UK


2016, London, Piano Nobile, Aspects of Abstraction: 1952-2007, 17 May - 23 June 2016, cat. no. 1, col. ill. p. 11. 


Terry Frost first moved to St Ives in 1946, before returning to London to study at the Camberwell School of Art. He moved to Cornwall permanently in 1950, working as Barbara Hepworth’s studio assistant to fund himself. St Ives was home to a community of avant-garde artists – from an older generation, Ben Nicholson and Naum Gabo alongside Barbara Hepworth influenced, inspired and occasionally guided Frost, whilst contemporaries such as Peter Lanyon were friends and collaborators. His first fully abstract work was 'Madrigal', (1949) Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum, but it was with 'Walk Along the Quay', (1950) Leeds Museums and Galleries, that Frost broke through to a personal vision. Frost’s abstraction was an abstraction rooted in experience, in sensation, in movement and in the body: “'Walk Along the Quay' came from a true walk, a regular morning stroll”. Describing the process from walk to canvas, he explained how he wanted to capture the sights and sounds, the smells and details of rocking hulls, taut and slackened ropes, waves on sand, reflections being created and broken, a squalling gust of wind; the constant changes of a seascape and the unexpected flashes of colour and shape.

From 1950, Frost developed a personal language, a shorthand of forms that symbolised particular elements within a seascape: half-ellipses for the hulls of boats, spheres and half-spheres for the sun, triangles for waves, all delineated with bold black lines, traversing the canvas in verticals, horizontals, and diagonals that linked ldisparate forms into a harmonious union. The choice of long, narrow canvases, either vertical or horizontally oriented as with 'Blue Green Movement', was a deliberate recreation of Frost’s walk along the quayside, echoing his personal journey: he later wrote: “I think for the first time I managed to paint up the canvas or along the canvas, like I walked along the quay, in fact I just walked up the canvas with the paint”.

Of the ‘Movement’ series of 1950 to 1953, the Blue Movement works are amongst the most atmospheric. Frost recollected, “There was always a strong blue light at the end of the quay in those days. It’s to do with blue evenings. In twilight blue lasts so much longer than any other colour. It’s like a note on a cello the way it just slowly disappears, trailing away, and as the blue is gradually disappearing into blackness, then suddenly that blue light at the end of the pier gives you a sharp prick – and to have the structure to hang it all on gives one the rhythm.”

The formal composition of 'Blue Green Movement' centres on a grouping of semi-elipses – rocking hulls – and a blue disk – the sinking sun. A multitude of patterned shapes outlined in bold black emerge across the canvas, a vibrant play of interlocking structures. Exquisite tones of deep inky blue, peacock blue, jade, emerald and turquoise seem to glisten, jewel-like. Paint is applied expressively with broad strokes of paint in repeated motions, suggesting the movement of waves and wind, but not thickly – the picture plane is integral to compositional unity. The luscious textured surface of 'Blue Green Movement' emphasises its roots in embodied experience, in the memory of physical sensations. The ‘Movement’ series is amongst the most important contributions to the development of post-war British abstract art, and 'Blue Green Movement' one of the most captivatingly beautiful of the series.