Sir Terry Frost (Terence Earnest Manitou Frost) was born on 13th October, 1915, in Leamington Spa, to Earnest Walter Frost and Millicent Maud, née Lines. He attended schools in his town of birth, but left at the age of fourteen to take up a series of short term jobs (at a bicycle shop; a bakery; an electrical wholesalers) but he also took evening classes in drawing. Frost joined the Territorial Army and when the Second World War broke out he served in France, Palestine, the Lebanon and the Sudan and finally in Crete. Here he was captured and imprisoned, finally being transferred to Stalag 383 in Hohenfels, Bavaria. And it was as a prisoner of war that Frost cultivated his interest in art: ‘In the prisoner-of-war camps’, he relates, he felt ‘a tremendous spiritual experience, a more aware or heightened perception during starvation, and I honestly do not think that [that] awakening has ever left me’ (The Times, September 2003).
In the camps Frost produced portraits of his fellow prisoners, but he also met Adrian Heath (1920-1992), an artist who had been attending the Slade School of Art before wartime service. Heath encouraged Frost in his artistic pursuits, and on their return to England encouraged his application and attendance at Camberwell School of Art, London.
Frost married Kathleen May Clarke, and together, again encouraged by Heath, the couple moved to St. Ives, Cornwall – then becoming established as a centre for avant-garde art. Frost continued to commute to Camberwell, but he also studied at the St. Ives School of Painting where he befriended practicing artists Peter Lanyon (see Artists) Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth for whom he worked as a studio assistant (1950-51).
At Camberwell Frost was taught both by William Coldstream (1908-1989) and Victor Pasmore (1908-1998) (see Artists). Coldstream promoted figurative painting and a rootedness in representation, whilst Pasmore was by then moving from representational approaches to an exploration of abstraction. Frost was influenced by both, but during his time at Camberwell he began to produce work of increasing abstraction. His work was noticed by such luminaries as Ben Nicholson who encouraged and promoted him, and Frost’s paintings were included in the important exhibition of abstract art at the Artist’s International Association Galleries (1951). In the following year Frost held his first solo show at the Leicester Galleries, London.
The tension between Coldstream’s and Pasmore’s approach is often evident in Frost’s work: he increasingly explores abstraction, but there is often an external reference, recognisable, linking his work in some way to the natural world. After Camberwell and St. Ives, Frost moved to Leeds in Yorkshire to take up a position at the University, but here he also taught at the College of Art and consolidated his position as a leading abstract artist.
Frost returned to St. Ives in 1958 and joined the new Waddington Galleries in London, where he exhibited regularly until 1978. In 1960 he had his first solo exhibition in the United States, at the Bertha Schaeffer Gallery, New York, and in the following year he taught a summer course at the University of California. Frost returned to England after his US travels, and lived in Banbury, Oxfordshire, whilst teaching at Coventry Art College, and then, moving to Reading, at Reading University where he stayed until 1981.
In part a reflection of his time in the US, from the 1960’s on Frost’s paintings became much simpler and the colours more pure. This reflected the art of the period, but in particular shows an influence from paintings by American artists – by Ellsworth Kelly, for instance, whose work Frost might well have seen. Whilst these paintings are apparently abstract, Frost still relates the shapes to objects such as boats or women’s bodies – real and observable data from which he worked.
By the end of the twentieth century Frost was one of the best-known artists in Britain. He was elected Royal Academician in 1992, and knighted in 1998. He died after a short illness, from cancer, in September 2003. He was survived by his wife, Kathleen, and their six children.
Public Collections holding work by Terry Frost, include:
The British Museum, London; the Tate, London; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.