Terry Frost: Six Decades
Exhibition organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London and supported by Paul and Alison Myners
Wed 10 Jan – Tue 13 Mar 2001
Sir Terry Frost RA is one of Britain’s most respected and successful abstract artists. He was born in 1915 in Leamington Spa and to celebrate his 85th birthday, the Royal Academy has organised this major retrospective exhibition.
Terry Frost is renowned for his use of pure vibrant colour and for the spirit and energy that his work exudes. Although purely abstract, his painting relate to things seen and felt. In the forms and colours, the viewer can discover Frost’s experiences in life, many of which provide a real contact with the power of the elements in the natural world.
The exhibition features of 40 works loaned from both public and private collections, spanning his 50 year career. This presentation is the only showing of the exhibition outside London. It is accompanied by a full colour catalogue
Abridged artist’s commentary taken from the catalogue to the exhibition. The commentary loosely follows the arrangement of the works in the Mead Gallery but visitors are encouraged to find their own path through the exhibition and to move freely between the paintings.
Door in Wall, Beaufort Street, 1946-7
You can see all the spaces in between the solid forms. I think that [the Camberwell] kind of painting, for me was quite a good lesson: the discipline of it is how you learn.
The Chair, 1947
I did this painting by the light of an electric light bulb between midnight and three in the morning. Matisse would have been pleased with that bit of chair.
The real problem I was solving in this portrait was how to use warm and cool to make forms, so I put a bit of Indian red on the nose and a bit of green on the ear, which seemed an obvious was of making space without thinking in terms of tone.
Battersea Park, 1947
On Mondays at Camberwell we had composition classes and we were once asked to do something with six figures in. So when I took my son Adrian out in the pram to Battersea Park I was observing people and I made up the six figures from my sketches with Albert Bridge in the background.
Mrs Pollard, Eddy and Cocking, Back Road West, St Ives, c. 1947
I lost the top of the painting because I cut it off to use for something else: the island was there.
Miss Humphries, 1948
I had been drawing her for about six weeks and I set about trying to do the painting because I must have read that great artists painted from drawings. And of course it was quite a shock because I then learnt that I hadn’t got all the necessary information about where all the spaces were, all the softness and the hardness so I had to do a lot more thinking.
Walk Along the Quay, 1950
I marked the canvas out geometrically before I started. There is sky at the top, then a meeting of sea and sky. At the bottom there is a little bit of still water where the boats are moored up.
I just made the painting, the first abstract that I showed, happen according to my intuitive reaction to the poem (Madrigal by W.H. Auden). I was using a rectangle and appreciating a flat surface, all in tonal Camberwell colours.
Yellow Painting, 1952
The Golden Section is here again and wedge shaped areas that make the painting jammed tight. The little bits of frivolity are my bit of fun. Those spirals are there because I was trying to stick my coloured shapes on and they fell off: the glue was a black kind of bitumen stuff which I put on in a spiral.
Yellow Triptych, 1957-59
The painting is the size of the wall in the bedroom that I used as a studio. I couldn’t step back far because I had tins of paint all over the place. I suddenly realised I was painting in a different way from easel painting, right up to it. It meant that I was working from my concepts, very close to the idea: it’s about thought rather than walking back to see it.
Black Wedge, 1959
I get a chance to use interesting colour here, and it’s lovely to do that squeeze of colours, yet keep it flat. There was a great domination of Moore and his lying down things and I think this painting is a bit to do with reclining form.
Leeds Painting ll, 1954-56
I used to wind up the engine of my Bedford van on the cold, damp mornings in Leeds to make it start. Then I would look up and see the octagonal shape around the sun above the verticals of the tree. The shape in this painting was all tied up with the movement of what I was doing.
Red, Black and White, Leeds, 1955
Here down in Cornwall I can see the moors on three sides and the sun and the moon. But when I went out on to Ilkley Moor, I suddenly felt no longer a giant but just a little tiny person, faced by Goredale Scar and other scars flat up in front of me. It was an honest solution to painting landscape on a flat surface, because that was what it looked like.
*Blue Winte*r, 1956
This painting is about driving home from Harrogate with the landscape on my right. It was white with a beautiful blue moon: it had been snowing. Here is my blue moon at different stages and the landscape, which I am still treating as in Red, Black and White, Leeds.
Winter Nude, 1959
The white is because I just wanted to make it lovely. It is not pornography or anything like that, it’s a love side. It’s very simple, the chevrons and wedges are all part of the figure.
Blue Linen Figure, 1960
The use of collage can depend on liking the colour of the canvas. You can make a form when you cut the canvas, you are taking a positive decision, like with this great wedge.
Laced Grace (prototype), 1962
I did the lacing first in charcoal which was easy but when it came to cutting holes in the canvas for the boot laces, it was not so easy. Then I slit the canvas and I solved the problem of how to cross the laces. The chevrons running in a line up the top of the picture are vertebrae.
I was told I was bad at lettering at school so I made these S and 9 shapes mainly from drawing round circles. The image is also to do with the fact that my grandmother used to have corsets that she would ask me to lace up.
Force 8, 1960
I painted to the sound during the whole of the gale and it really made me hit the strokes. The wedges take hold of the whole thing and tighten it like a spanner. Also, the colour is very interesting because it allows the canvas to come through. Different weights, different speeds, different thrusts, all what a gale is like.
M17, October, 1962
This is a snorter. I am proud of that. I thought, why don’t I do all the signs I have seen on one canvas. So you have everything on there I have ever done.
I went to San Jose and travelled through the desert and saw colours of this kind. They gave me acrylic in San Jose and that is why I started using it after that, but this is still in oils. I like drawing on the canvas – this painting shows those thin lines I started using in 1954, it takes a bit of doing to retain them.
In this painting, the chevrons are going out and supporting the central figure instead of penetrating it.
Mae West, c. 1965
I had always done constructions, one or two a year, because I always wanted to be a sculptor and a painter and a potter. The title came after it was made. I called it Mae West because it’s big at the front, it’s as simple as that.
In Banbury, there was a furniture shop that threw away lots of wood shapes that had been cut out from furniture. They happened to be those semi-circles. When I wanted to do a big one, I had to have the wood cut for me. And then I learnt to put the canvas round. My mother was a dressmaker, so I learnt how to cut on the bias.
Red, Black and White, 1967
At that time in my life, I could paint on the floor, so I would stand to make semicircles which were drawn by my body. You couldn’t do that on an easel because you would plan it too much if you did.
Stacked Red Pisa, 1971
This is part of a whole series of suspended forms. Some were three-dimensional; my studio in Banbury was full of painted tubes of canvas filled with polystyrene granules. I have always like that kind of looped shape. It is in every landscape, every half moon and because it is such a universal shape I can do anything I like with it.
Exclamation Mark, 2000
I am several persons: I am a person who would like to be a minimal artist and I’m also a person who likes people and painting people. Black and white and red I think are superb. You think of Malevich with his black cubes or Lissitzky who can write ‘CCCP’ and make it into a painting with one exclamation mark which took me out of this world when I saw it.
Through Blacks, 1972-73
When doing paintings like this, I mix the colours for about fifteen weeks, adding little bits of red, yellow and blue until I break to the yellow side of black, the blue side and so on: it’s a very long job. Then I cut all the shapes because I’ve got a rhythm in the semi-circle. The colours on the left-hand side are the ones that I was mixing from. When you are mixing from yellow, red and blue, you are going to get a hell of a range.
Through Blues, 1975
I’m now free from copying anything: the shape is not related to a woman’s bottom, it’s not related to boats, it’s my personal shape and it’s free. I can do anything I want, I can make it faster or slower, the canvas thicker or thinner and I can paint it any colour I want in the range that I am doing and then I get the magic of all the shapes in between.
Blue for Newlyn, 1989
There’s a black moon in here, twilight colours and stacked colours down the side. It’s a nice big canvas and I enjoyed doing it. That’s what counts. Too much agony doesn’t come off sometimes.
Black Olives for Lorca, 1989
Far away and alone.
Black pony, big moon,
And olives in my saddlebag.
Although I know the roads
I’ll never reach Cordoba
Through the plain, through the wind,
Black pony, red moon.
Death is looking at me
From the towers of Cordoba
Ah! How long the road!
Ah! My valiant pony!
Ah! That death should wait me
Before I reach Cordoba!
Far away and alone.
‘Song of the Rider’ by Federico Garcia Lorca.
I’ve got the black olives and there is a moon in there too. Lorca is so simple and so direct and so full of colour and ideas.
October 12, Lizard Sunrise, 1999
Over the years I must have taken hundreds of photographs of sunrises which are never the same and change every two seconds. It was a question of feeling right about the colour. Is it yellow, is it orange, what’s the colour round it?
This painting is based on the sunrise but has an explosive liberty which is not to do with any sunrises at all. If you make coloured marks like that, you get the best white in the world at the centre. I got that from Russian Constructivism.
I like spirals because they’re forever. If you walk along the coast as I used to do a lot, you pick up shells and you see those shapes. They are always a growth form.
Black Sun, 1978
Black is the container of all colour. As I’ve spent so much time making blacks and teaching students to make blacks from red, yellow and blue, it’s a very important part of my painting life. While teaching I would try to make people see the colour in black.
Newlyn Rhythms, 1981-88
This is similar to the ‘Through’ paintings but the trial here is a square within a square. Originally, all these lines were marked according to the Golden Section, to determine where the curve turns which means that every shape has a proportional relationship to each other. As soon as you put some colour in a shape it appears either bigger so smaller, or faster or slower.