Sir Terry Frost RA (born Terence Ernest Manitou Frost) (13 October 1915 1 September 2003) was an English abstract artist, who worked in Newlyn, Cornwall. Frost was renowned for his use of the Cornish light, colour and shape to start a new art movement in England. He became a leading exponent of abstract art and a recognised figure of the British art establishment.
The work of Terry Frost reflects his joie de vivre and his gratitude for having survived his four years of captivity. Taking his inspiration from simple pleasures of existence, sun, moon, water and simple geometric shapes, circles, squares, curves that he freely combines into a singular event.
Although abstract, Terry Frost’s paintings nearly always draw on his experience of being in the world, and many are particularly evocative of Cornish harbours. His work is always grounded in things seen and felt, and he has created a distinctive and personal visual language of shapes and colours that vividly communicate this experience.
Colour and form are the two essential elements in Terry Frost’s painting. He writes, “Certain colours do people’s hearts good, other colours they dislike in various degrees. It is a question of reacting via the eyes through the heart and head for a full sensation… colour for feeling, to do with imagination and reverie, inspired by actual visual experience.”
Terry Frost was the son of Ernest Walter Frost, who at the time of Little Terry’s birth was in service at the 97th Royal Field Artillery and Millicent Maud, born Lines. His father abandoned the family when Terry was still in his infancy, and was raised by his grandparents.
Born in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, in 1915, he did not become an artist until he was in his 30s. He left school aged fourteen and went to work at Curry’s cycle shop and then at Armstrong Whitworth in Coventry. During World War II, he served in France, the Middle East and Greece, before joining the commandos. Whilst serving with the commandos in Crete in June 1941 he was captured and sent to various prisoner of war camps. As a prisoner of war at Stalag 383 in Bavaria, he met Adrian Heath who encouraged him to paint. Commenting later he described these years as a ‘tremendous spiritual experience, a more aware or heightened perception during starvation’.
He attended the Rugby Road school and the Central School, both in Leamington Spa, in 1926. Although in the early years of his career he showed interest in creative activities, including writing, at the age of 14 he left school to go to work first At a bicycle shop and later at a baker and an airplane factory, Armstrong Whitworth of Coventry during a period of unemployment attended evening drawing classes and joined the Territorial Army, the British Army’s reserve force.
As soon as war was over he went to Birmingham College of Art. However Frost quickly assumed that the action was elsewhere. At first attended Camberwell School of Art under Leonard Fuller. The following year, 1946 he removed for a year out to St. Ives School of Painting where his first solo exhibition was held in 1947 at G.B. Downing’s bookshop, before returning to London and that autumn the Camberwell School of Art under Victor Passmore, Ben Nicholson and William Coldstream bringing him to paint his first abstract work in 1949. For three years he exhibited with the St Ives Society of Artists until in 1950 he was elected a member of the Penwith Society; he maintained a permanent connection with the Newlyn school. Already settled in the town by 1951 he worked as an assistant to the sculptor Barbara Hepworth. He was joined there by Roger Hilton, where they began a collaboration in collage and construction techniques.
During the first years of World War II he served in France, Palestine and Lebanon, Sudan and Crete, where he was captured in June 1941, imprisoned in Thessaloniki, was then dispatched to Poland and then to Stalag 383 in Hohenfels, Bavaria. During his imprisonment he devoted himself to the drawing, during this time he produced many portraits of his prisoners using various recovery materials as a basis. During this time he met Adrian Heath, a young artist who had to leave the Slade School of Art to serve in Armed forces and who devoted himself to teaching Frost techniques and art history .
After the liberation, Frost returned to the birthplace where he married Kathleen May Clarke on August 11, 1945, in the following years the couple had 6 children. Frost found a job as a vendor of electrical components, but the frustration of not being able to devote himself to art led him to abandon his job, began attending an art school and the couple moved to Cornwall, in the town of St Ives, Becoming a center with many avant-garde artists. After a period in which the couple lived in a caravan and using numerous jobs to survive, Frost managed to integrate into the community of artists and attend artists such as Peter Lanyon, John Wells, Denis Mitchell, Sven Berlin, Patrick Heron and Bryan Wynter. Through Lanyon he met Ben Nicholson, who was a great supporter and Barbara Hepworth, who served in the two-year period of 1950-51.
Since 1947 he attended the Camberwell School of Art, which was highly oriented to figurative painting and a formalist approach, the works of Frost of this period are very varied and highlight the dilemma that later led him to devote exclusively to abstract painting and geometrical compositions . His first abstract work dates back to 1949 and was a task on the theme of “madrigal”, Frost was inspired by the poem of the same name by WH Auden and produced an abstract composition of geometric shapes currently exhibited at the Leamington Spa art gallery. Frost continued the study And his “conversion” to abstract painting, is the 1950s Walk along the Quay composition, part of a series of compositions dedicated to the movements and colors of the port of St. Ives and included in an 1951 abstract art exhibition Next year Frost had his first staff at the Leicester Galleries in London.
Frost teamed up with a group of artists called “builders” and often performed with them, the group reached its peak in 1954 with the publication of the Nine Abstract Artists work, featuring an introduction by Lawrence Alloway. At that time Frost taught design at the Bath Academy of Art and held classes in London, thus starting his long career in teaching that led him to Leeds University in 1954. Here, at a time of greater economic security, Frost began a new Phase inspired by the colors of Yorkshire and characterized by strong contrasts between light and dark shapes and the appearance of new shapes, such as vertical polygons.
His first exhibition was the Leicester Galleries in the heart of London’s west end. Frost’s academic career included teaching at Bath Academy of Art, the Coventry Art College and was appointed the Gregory Fellow at University of Leeds. In 1958 while still teaching at Leeds School of Art he joined the London Group. He moved to St Ives, and then in 1963 to Banbury, where his house at 2 Old Parr Street now sports an Oxfordshire Blue Plaque.
Later he became Artist in Residence and Professor of Painting at the Department of Fine Art of the University of Reading.
At the Barbara Schaeffer Society in New York, 1960 he put on his first exhibition in USA. There he met many of American abstract expressionists, including Marc Rothko who, along with his wife Mel, became great friends. The success contributed to an award of the John Moore Prize for 1965. In 1992 he was elected a Royal Academician and he was knighted in 1998. A retrospective of his work was held in 2000.
Since 1965 he worked full time for Reading University, he became a professor in 1977 and a professor emeritus in 1981. Probably inspired by the uniform surfaces and simple shapes of American abstract paintings of the sixties, Frost progressively passed to shapes and compositions ever easier Inspired by real objects or scenes. The bonnet of vans and road signs became a source of inspiration from which were born works such as M17 (1962 owned by the British Council) to more and more simple works in colors and shapes such as Red and Black (1965 Tate collection), simplicity Of the shapes was further accentuated by the passage to the use of acrylic colors. Progressively he was interested in the link between weight and movement, this period works with suspended and curved shapes and also some sculptures from the seventies and early eighties.
In 1974 Frost moved to Newlyn, a few miles from St. Ives in a house on top of a hill from which you enjoyed a great view of the underlying bays and sunrise and sunset over the sea, the sun and the moon became recurring reasons Like solar and joyful colors.
1977 is the first of a series of visits to the island of Cyprus, and in its compositions the colors of this land also entered. Her retirement from Reading University started a period of great productivity that included sculptures, jewelery and pottery. Among his works are clocks for the Royal Academy and five “queues” for British Airways aircraft. In 1998 he began producing glass sculptures in collaboration with Murano glassworks, and he also dedicated himself to the production of prints that had a good commercial success.
Towards the end of the twentieth century, Terry Frost was one of the best-known artists in Britain, admitted to the Royal Academy in 1992, and in 2000, on his 85th birthday, a personal retrospective was held at the Sackler Galleries of the Royal Academy.
In 1998 he was given the title of Baronetto, his works are exhibited at the Tate Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Museum and the National Galleries of Scotland and Wales, some of his works are also in the United States, Canada, Israel and Portugal.
After a short period of illness, Frost died of cancer on September 1, 2003 at St Julia’s Hospice at Hayle, not far from St Ives, his remains were crushed in Truro on 9 September.
He married Kathleen Clarke in 1945. They had five sons and one daughter. His sons Adrian and Anthony also became artists while another son, Stephen, is a comedian and actor. His grandson Luke Frost is also an artist.