Visual Arts in Ayrshire

The Maclaurin Art Collection  ~  Late Period Purchase

Sir Terry Frost RA 1915 - 2003


1. Frost

2.   Terry Frost

3.  shows Terry Frost in his studio, surrounded by colourful paintings

4. Mugs

5.  1951


Sir Terry Frost RA 1915 - 2003

1.   Mars Red, Black and White 1961, Sir Terry Frost RA 1915 - 2003  Oil on canvas, 1285 x 1530 mm.  Maclaurin Art Collection.  Purchased from Redfern Gallery, London with a purchase grant from the National Fund for Acquisitions.  Photograph ©Mike Bailey.

2.  Sir Terry Frost, RA. (1915-2003). Photograph by Andrew Dunkley ©Tate Gallery, St Ives.

3.   Sir Terry Frost in July, 2002. Photograph Andrew Dunkley © Tate Gallery, St Ives.

4.   Two mugs by Sir Terry Frost.   Personal Collection, Photograph by ©Mike Bailey.

5.   British sculptor Barbara Hepworth works on an abstract stone sculpture for the Dome of Discovery, Festival of Britain, 1951.  (The 1951 Festival of Britain in pictures from The Telegraph).  Original; Photograph Getty Images.  [Sir Terry Frost was Hepworth's studio assistant when this work was created.  The view shows the sculptor at work in her St. Ives Studio.]

Sir Terry Frost was one of the leading non-figurative painters of his generation and his work was shown extensively in international venues and exhibitions.

Lawrence Alloway edited a book entitled 'Nine Abstract Artists', in which six of Frost's paintings were reproduced, along with a statement.  Part of the statement read: 'To look with preconceived notions of visual experience is to destroy the possibility of creating again that experience in paint. If you know before you look, then you cannot see for knowing.'

As an artist and a personality, Frost was a towering figure who lived and worked at the core of the St. Ives community.  But, like some of the other key figures, he had an academic career and was in touch with American Abstract expressionism.  It was a long term objective to include his work in the Maclaurin Art Collection and to represent him in the exhibition programme.

Although an abstract painter, Frost's earliest work was in the Euston Road Realist tradition.

After the formalises of the 'Walk Along the Quay' paintings,   Frost took his inspiration from nature; the sun, moon, water, boats and the female form became recurring motifs, abstracted into sensuous circles and curves. These shapes were often coloured in dramatic blues, reds, oranges, yellows and blacks. Frost believed that the interplay of colour and shape could realise an event or image more successfully than imitation. He combined strict formal discipline with great expressive freedom and a natural sureness of touch.

‘A circle means so much to me; it’s become like a god. I can
use it in any colour I want, and often I use it in black, because
I think a black sun is beautiful.';
wrote Frost.  His work reflected the inspiration he found in the Cornish light, glittering seas and watery reflections.

From 1954 until 1957 he was in Leeds, for the first two years as a Gregory fellow at Leeds University, for the second two teaching at Leeds School of Art. He was as undogmatic and untheoretical a teacher as he was a painter. He was popular with students and fitted in well with the generation of artists such as Harry Thubron, Richard Hamilton and Pasmore, who were unlacing art school training from its Euston Road school straitjacket. I recall Frost talking about his teaching in Leeds and Newcastle, where he introduced the practice of automatic drawing; students where asked to undertake  an extended series of drawings of common objects, working from memory, with eyes closed.  This practice encouraged a freedom as the artists gained confidence and were reassessed from the tyranny of the format and dimensions of their paper or the fine detail of their subject.  (This process of automatic drawing became a feature of many of the workshops organised at the Maclaurin Art Gallery for young people.)

In much the same way, Frost was able to carry a thesaurus of simple geometric images in his head, representations of shapes of the buoys moving with the swell, fishermen's floats, waves building and breaking on the beach; and then there were the colours - sand colours, boat colours, sea colours.  But most of all, the Cornish sun.

Frost visited the Maclaurin Art Gallery in January 1993, in company with Whilhelmina Barns Graham whose solo exhibition opened the gallery's 1993 programme.    Both artists and representatives of the Scottish Press enjoyed a 'gallery lunch' on this occasion.

[Text based, in part, on Gallery records, Tate Gallery records, catalogue biographies and personal recollections.]

Work identified and championed by Yvonne Hawker and Mike Bailey.

Terry Frost

Born Leamington Spa in 1915. Frost was a giant of British Abstract Art.  He was brought up by his grandparents, who ran the last bath-chair business in the town. Educated at Leamington Spa Central School, where he edited the art magazine, he left school at the age of 14. to work at Curry's Cycle shop then Armstrong Whitworth in Coventry, where he painted the red, white and blue rondels on to fighter planes.

After joining the army 1939, he served in Palestine and Greece, before being captured in 1941. Frost remained a prisoner until the end of the war, an experience that changed his outlook on life and introduced him to the possibilities of art. In a Bavarian  prison camp, Stalag 383, 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 due to starvation, and I honestly do not think that awakening has ever left me.'

After his release in 1945, Frost attended art classes at Birmingham Art College.  He moved to Cornwall in 1946 and studied at the St Ives School of Painting under Leonard Fuller. His 'Walk Along the Quay' series of paintings first appeared in 1948, using free compositional elements of boat shapes, masts and water, combining to give a feeling of movement and rhythm. Frost used a semi-circle motif in these which Ben Nicholson said was 'something that can last you for the rest of your life'.

Later Frost studied at the Camberwell School of Art where his tutors included Victor Pasmore and William Coldstream The paintings with flat shapes and muted colouring in this period reflect Pasmore's influence.  Later, Frost was to study with Roger Hilton in Paris.

By 1951 Frost was working in Barbara Hepworth's studio and this contact with sculpture affected his own development profoundly. After 1951 his work contains three-dimensional elements, leading to experiments with collage, an aspect of his work that continued for the rest of his life.

The first abstract that Frost was prepared to show, Madrigal (1949), was a dark, assured performance of rectangles and triangles locked together on the flat picture plane which, in the spirit of the times, was heavily disparaged by the principal of Camberwell.  But by 1950 . when the Frosts had moved to Quay Street in St Ives (where all six Frost children were born) and his paintings took on the feel of his new environment. Walk Along The Quay of that year is a sharp-edged harmony of blues, muted greys and ochres, and soon the abstractions assumed his characteristic shapes, jostling and nudging across the canvas like small boats bobbing in the harbour: the ellipses, circles, and semi-circles that his neighbour in the cluster of studios above Porthmeor beach, Ben Nicholson, had told him would last him for life.

In 1951 he showed abstract paintings, sculpture and mobiles at the AIA Gallery and the following year mounted his first one-man exhibition at the Leicester Galleries.

Frost taught at many institutions including life drawing at Bath Academy of Art (1952-4), a centre for talented avant-garde painters like Scott, Wynter and Lanyon. In 1954 he was offered, and accepted, the Gregory Fellowship in Painting at the University of Leeds for a period of two years. In due course his paintings began to reflect his new surroundings in the Yorkshire Dales and the long snow-bound winters. During this time in Leeds he spent his summers in St Ives and returned to live there again in 1957 to paint full-time.

In 1960 he visited New York and met Rothko, de Kooning, Kline, Motherwell and other abstract expressionists. While there he had an exhibition at the Bertha Schaeffer gallery. After this visit his work gained in confidence. The motifs which he first realised in 1948 were still present but simplified and his colour more vivid. His new York experience 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.

[Text based, in part, on Gallery records, Tate Gallery records, obituaries, catalogue biographies and personal recollections.]


This page is based on recollections by Mike Bailey, and other published sources.   Mrs Mary E Maclaurin's Trust is a Registered Scottish Charity

Top  ~     ~ Sir Terry Frost  ~  The Guardian Obituary ~ The Telegraph Obituary  ~  St. Ives Exhibition 2003 ~ 2013: Remembering Sir Terry

Maclaurin Art Collection ~ Updated March 5, 2016