Terry Frost 1915-2003


Beaux Arts Gallery

Private Collection, London


2016, London, Piano Nobile, Aspects of Abstraction: 1952-2007, 17 May - 23 June 2016, cat. no. 18, col. ill. p. 57. 


Sir Terry Frost RA (1915-2003) was born in Leamington Spa in the Midlands, and raised by his grandmother. After several jobs, Frost joined the Territorial Army in 1933 and was called up for service upon the declaration of war in 1939. Frost was taken prisoner of war in 1941 and began painting during his internment, sending paintings home in 1944. Whilst in captivity he met British artist and fellow prisoner Adrian Heath. Upon his return to England and on the advice of Heath, Frost moved with his wife to St Ives, and coincidentally the same road as Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth. An artistic community built up, drawn by Nicholson and Hepworth, and included Peter Lanyon and Bryan Winter amongst others. In 1947, Frost returned to London until 1950 to train at Camberwell School of Art, and Frost was heavily influenced by Victor Pasmore, then a teacher at Camberwell. Frost’s family remained in Cornwall, and it was the motifs of the Cornish landscape that dominate throughout Frost’s career. Coastlines, quays, boats, sails, waves and the sun constitute the building blocks of Frost’s formal qualities in his continual negotation between abstraction and figuration, exploring aspects of balance, rhythm, relational shapes, line, colour, space and depth. During the 1950s Frost, alongside Patrick Heron, Bryan Winter and, in particular, Roger Hilton, became one of Britain’s most creative, prominent and prolific painters.

Frost had numerous British and international solo exhibitions in his lifetime, including at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford (1969), the ICA (1971), a touring Arts Council retrospective (1976), the Mayor Gallery (1989), Tate St Ives (198), the British Council in New York (1998) and an RA retrospective in 2000. He was made an RA in 1992 and awarded a knighthood in 1998. Throughout his career, Frost was revered as a teacher, working at Leeds College of Art, Bath Academy of Art, Coventry Art College, Reading University, and the University of California. Frost was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Law by the Council for National Academic Awards in 1977, a Doctorate of Letters by the University of Exeter in 1999 and the same doctorate by the University of Warwick in 2000. Frost’s work is held in numerous private and public collections around the world including Tate, MoMA, and the National Gallery of Canada.

In 'Ochre Dusk, Pink to Black', 1990, Terry Frost returns to abstraction through a familiar motif, that of the setting sun, a burst of red with a golden glow. Four shapes, including the brilliant red sun, are delicately balanced in a vertical arrangement across the canvas – the sun rests above a black crescent, and, below, a black circle missing a wedge sits adjacent to a smaller bright yellow circle. White space surrounds these forms, which seem not to float but to be carefully placed in a cohesive arrangement. This sensation of order is underlined by Frost’s utilisation of collage, a relatively recent development for Frost in the 1990s: each shape is a product of collage, an affixation of either another piece of canvas or board onto the white of the canvas.

The colours present in 'Ochre Dusk, Pink to Black' are predominantly those with great significance to Frost throughout his career. In the 1950s Frost was fascinated by different variations and shades of yellow, culminating in his project of 365 yellow circles on two inch squares. Likewise, the endless variety within the colour black was a constant preoccupation for Frost. Famously, he instructed his students to mix up a paint colour they deemed black to demonstrate how differently each individual perceives black. Throughout his career Frost returns to the motif of the sun, from Cornwall to the quality of light of the Mediterranean sun which particularly dominated this latter period of his career, and is suggested by the poetic title. Lyrical yet restrained, balanced in tantalising harmony, abstract and yet rooted in memories of material experiences, 'Ochre Dusk, Pink to Black' is amongst Frost’s most passionate yet understated mature paintings.