On Monday I wrote about Terry Frost – and then came across this excellent Obit which is worth reading:
From The Times
September 3, 2003
Sir Terry Frost
Exuberant artist whose decades-long adventure in abstraction remained firmly grounded in a love of natural forms
One of the best loved of British artists, Terry Frost enriched the lives of all who came into his orbit of ebullience and generosity. A social creature, approachable, earthy, good natured and direct, he put a personal celebration of being human at the centre of his work and of his life. He came quite late to painting, but his faith in the adventure of abstract art remained undimmed for more than half a century, and the exhilarating and prolific results convey the expansive joy that was the essence of his character.Although he rejected the religious aspect of the visionary landscape tradition in British art, saying that any religious belief had been destroyed for him by the war, he shared an extraordinary intensity of vision with Samuel Palmer and William Blake and in many ways can be seen as their successor.
His inspiration came from nature and included something of the pagan, as he himself said. The sun, the moon and glittering water, as well as boats and the female form, all figured prominently, abstracted into sensuous circles and curves and coloured in dramatic blues, reds, oranges, yellows and blacks. In his very best work, produced over perhaps half a dozen years in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Frost showed that he could hold his own against any abstract painter then alive. The explorations and discoveries of those years became the constants of his long career, worked and reworked in different forms with endless invention and zest.
Terence Ernest Manitou Frost was born into a working-class family in Leamington Spa in 1915. Throughout his childhood he lived with his grandparents Edith and Thomas Lines (the last bath-chair proprietor in the town). He never knew his father but believed that he might once have met him as a child. He was educated first at the Rugby Road School and then, between the ages of 11 and 14, attended the Leamington Spa Central School, where he was art editor of the school magazine.
In 1930 he got his first job at Curry’s cycle shop in the town. Then, from 1932 to 1939, having joined the Territorial Army, he worked at Armstrong Whitworth in Coventry, painting red, white and blue roundels on to the wings of fighter planes and bombers.
His early war years saw him serving in France, Palestine and Lebanon. After joining the Commandos he fought in Crete, where he was captured in June 1941. As a prisoner of war he was interned in camps in Salonika and Poland, ending up in 1943 in Stalag 383 in Bavaria, where he remained until the end of the war.
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.
On reaching Britain in 1945, Frost had first returned to the Midlands and married Kathleen May Clarke. He attended evening classes at Birmingham Art College for a time, but the strain of his war experiences and of returning to civilian work when his heart was in painting brought him close to a breakdown. In 1946 he moved with his wife and first child down to Cornwall.
They lived first in a caravan at Carbis Bay, then moved to a cottage in Quay Street, St Ives, in 1947, where they stayed until 1964 and where the rest of their six children were born.
Frost began studies at Leonard Fuller’s St Ives School of Painting. Equally important was the artistic company he found at St Ives, in that happy time “when no reputations had been made and we shared everything”. It included Naum Gabo (who left for America a few months afterwards, but whose vision of space and movement in art had a profound impact on St Ives artists), Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson, Adrian Stokes and his wife Margaret Mellis, the potter Bernard Leach, Sven Berlin, John Wells, Guido Morris, Brian Wynter, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Peter Lanyon, Patrick Heron and John Tunnard — with summer visits from London-based artists such as Heath and Victor Pasmore.
Frost exhibited with the St Ives Society of Artists in the deconsecrated Mariners’ Church (known locally as the New Gallery), in the “advanced” group of artists, tucked away in a corner by the font; also in the saloon bar of the Castle Inn on Fore Street; at the back of Downing’s Bookshop on Fore Street; and in his studio at No 4 Piazza, which he shared with Wing Commander C. A. A. “Bunny” Stone, an aeronautical artist. Body and soul were kept together by a succession of occasional jobs such as waiter — with his wife as waitress — and by the classic Bohemian exchange of paintings for meals.
From 1947 to 1950 Frost commuted between St Ives and London in order to attend the Camberwell School. William Coldstream was then head of painting, assisted by Claude Rogers, Pasmore and Lawrence Gowing.
Camberwell gave Frost a firm grounding in traditional skills, but Pasmore, something of a maverick among what were known in St Ives as “the Coldstream Guards”, also urged him to skip the rigours of the Camberwell life class in favour of spending time in the National Gallery. There, in front of Rubens’s Judgment of Paris, Piero della Francesca’s Baptism of Christ, or Antonello da Messina’s St Jerome in his Study, 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 — Frost painted his first successful abstract in 1949, based on the poem Madrigal by W. H. Auden. A year later, with Walk Along the Quay, painted in the Porthmeor Beach studio at St Ives, that he shared with Adrian Heath, Frost found his feet as an artist. He recalled that Ben Nicholson, who had the studio next to his, came and looked at that painting for two hours and later said: “You’ve got on to something that can last you the rest of your life.”
Through the experience of repeatedly walking along the quay (pushing one of his children in the pram) and looking down at the boats in the harbour, Frost had discovered how to flatten space and combine structure with colour. Using the Golden Section as a framework, he turned the sky, boats, sea and the harbour wall into the abstract shapes that became his artistic language.
In the late Forties and Fifties, St Ives was a vibrant artistic community pioneering abstraction in a Britain that was generally hostile to non-figurative art. In 1950 Frost went to work for Hepworth on Contrapuntal Forms, the large limestone sculpture commissioned for the Festival of Britain. This experience of three-dimensionality shook his faith in painting for a time and he used small constructions and collages to bridge the gap back to the flat illusion of the canvas. He contined to use these ways of making throughout his life: a recent exhibition of his work at Tate St Ives contained several constructions made only last year.
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 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.
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.
Yorkshire gave Frost new impetus, a new relationship with nature and a fresh, expansive approach to colour and scale. Walking the Yorkshire moors, being dwarfed by the vertical planes of Gordale Scar, the surprising colours and forms of a landscape transformed by snow: these are the things that fed into his art at this time. The Leeds paintings — Blue Winter; Winter 1956, Yorkshire; Red, Black and White, Leeds — are among the very best works of his career.
By the late 1950s Frost was established as a leading figure in London and St Ives (to which he moved back in 1958).
His first one-man exhibition in London had been at the Leicester Galleries in 1952, but he subsequently moved to Waddington’s, where he was to show for more than 20 years. (The experience, however, would put him off dealers, and he preferred to the end of his life not to be attached exclusively to any one gallery.) An important experience came in 1960, when he had the first of two one-man shows at Bertha Schaefer’s gallery in New York. Frost in these years was at the peak of his powers, and his best paintings had much in common (and could stand comparison) with important work being made across the Atlantic at the time.
Through the all-powerful critic Clement Greenberg, and in visits to the Cedar Bar, Frost met some of the leading American painters, among them Helen Frankenthaler, Willem De Kooning, Barnett Newman, Robert Motherwell and Larry Rivers. They invited him to their studios, confirmed a belief that painting was an act, an action (“thinking is before and after, not during it”), and Frost came back to England inspired to paint on a much bigger scale. He also resolved to destroy those of his paintings that were not up to scratch, but was notably less successful with this second ambition.
In 1962 Frost and his family moved to Banbury, and he taught part-time at Coventry School of Art. There he began to find inspiration for his own work in traffic signs, which he related to the chevrons and other shapes on the standards used in the Civil War battle of Edge Hill. Having bought a job lot of bootlaces he also created a series of painting-collages of laced-up, bosomy corsets.
In 1963 Frost was in the group show British Painting in the Sixties at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, and in 1964 he was invited to teach a summer course at the University of California at San José. There he was overwhelmed by the colours of the desert and, being supplied with acrylics, painted in that medium for the first time. After that he rarely painted in oils, finding it much easier to cover large canvases in acrylic and liking the immediacy of the quick drying.
After a year as artist in residence at the fine art department of Newcastle University, Frost was appointed in 1965 as a full-time lecturer at Reading University, later becoming Professor of Painting there. He was a gifted teacher and had a devoted following among his students from all periods of his career.
Also in 1965, Frost won the John Moore’s painting prize. In 1971, following hard on the heels of an exhibition of his work at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, he was given a solo exhibition at the ICA. In 1974 he moved back to Cornwall, buying a house above Newlyn looking across the bay to St Michael’s Mount. Teaching visits to Canada in 1975 and 1976 led to a series of white paintings of snowfalls and into a series of “White Brides”.
Visits to Ronda, in Spain, in the 1980s brought Frost into the Andalusia of the Spanish playwright and poet Lorca, whose poems he had always loved. Frost responded to the passion of the duende, the generative catalyst of death and love, witnessing it visually in a fish market where a great silver fish was cut up in front of a crowd of people dressed all in black. Such moments of visual revelation were his artistic inspiration, and from his Spanish experiences came an outstanding series of etchings titled the Lorca Portfolio in 1989.
Much of the best work of Frost’s last 20 years was on paper, in the form of etchings, lithographs and woodcuts. Individual examples ended up in collections as distinguished as those of the Tate (which also owns several paintings) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. But countless others found their way into people’s homes, their warmth and boldness — and comparatively modest prices — making them accessible, in every sense, to many who might never have considered themselves collectors of modern art.
Terry Frost was elected to the Royal Academy in 1992, and given a small retrospective there in 2000. He was knighted in 1998. He 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 in February this year. His best work will endure. So, too, will the vivid recollections of his many friends: of Terry Frost in his bright red beret, green glasses perched on his nose, sitting, perhaps, in Mulligan’s bar in Cork Street, diluting a pint of Guinness with a bottle of champagne, and talking the while, with undiluted passion, of nature and art.
He is survived by his wife, Kathleen, and their five sons and a daughter.
Sir Terry Frost, RA, artist, was born on October 13, 1915. He died on September 1, 2003, aged 87.