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Sir Terry Frost

Artist Biography

Sir Terry Frost RA (1915-2003) was a giant of British abstract Art. Born in Leamington Spa in 1915, Frost left school at the age of 14 and worked until the outbreak of war. Serving in countries as diverse as Palestine and Greece, he was fatefully captured in 1941, remaining a prisoner until the end of the war - an experience that changed his outlook on life and introduced him to the possibilities of art. It was in a prison camp in Bavaria that Frost began to paint and draw, encouraged by young artist and fellow prisoner Adrian Heath.

“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 awakening has ever left me.”

These experiences are often acknowledged as informing his artistic style; the gratitude he felt at surviving wartime incarceration manifesting through his use of colour and light, reflecting what he described as “a sense of delight in front of nature”. Nature is a recurring theme across Frost’s work, often employing imagery such the sun, moon, water, boats and the female form - an exploration of circles and curves. Considered in this context, it is easy to see why the measured, formal discipline was the ideal framework through which he could experiment freely with bold colour. For Frost, this interplay was affective and realised an event or image more successfully than imitation.

On his return to Britain in 1946, Frost moved to St. Ives in Cornwall, where for the most part, he lived and worked for the rest of his life. He attended the St. Ives School of Art before spending the late 1940s commuting to London in order to attend the Camberwell School of Art. During this time Frost’s attention was drawn to Victor Pasmore and Ben Nicholson and his vision shifted. These influences lead him to create his first abstract painting in 1949, a drastic move away from his earlier figurative work.

Frost worked as Barbara Hepworth's assistant in 1951 and had his first solo exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in 1952. He taught at various prestigious institutions including the Bath Academy of Art (1952-4), Leeds University (who awarded him he was the Gregory Fellowship in 1954) and Reading University.

In 1960 Frost had his first solo exhibition in New York at the Barbara Schaefer Gallery. Whilst in New York he met some of the leading American Abstract Expressionists, an experience that encouraged him to start painting on a much larger scale. He was awarded the John Moore's Prize in 1965, elected to the Royal Academy in 1992 and knighted in 1998. A retrospective of his work was held at the Royal Academy in 2000.