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Sir Terry Frost

  • Sir Terry Frost - Red, Black and White
    Sir Terry Frost Red, Black and White Signed, dated '57 and inscribed on the reverse
    Oil on canvas
    24 x 30 in
    61 x 76.2 cm
    Full details

    SP 4784



    Leamington Spa 1915 – 2003 Cornwall


    Red, Black and White


    Signed, dated and inscribed I Red Black & White / Terry Frost / 57 on the reverse

    Oil on canvas: 24 x 30 in / 61 x 76.2 cm

    Frame size: 28 x 34 in/ 71.1 x 86.4 cm



    Private collection, purchased directly from the artist in the late 1950s



    London, The Leicester Galleries, Keith Vaughan Recent Paintings: Terry Frost New Paintings, June 1958, no. 10



    Terry Frost painted a number of works on the theme of red, black and white throughout his career, most particularly during his time at Leeds from 1954–6, where he held the position of Gregory Fellow of Painting and subsequently taught at Leeds College of Art in 1957, the year this picture was painted. His response to his new surroundings was intense and immediate, the spacious Yorkshire Moors affecting a marked change in both his palette and composition. Writing about the analogous Red, Black and White, Leeds, 1955

    (private collection) Frost explained the change in his experience of the landscape and how it altered the scope and size of his work, ‘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’.[1]


    Frost associated the colours not only with the landscape and season, but also with formal necessity, ‘During the winter in the North I was always elated, lifted out of myself, the air was keen, visibly sharper, there was a strange silence belonging only to white and snow. There was also an edge of impermanence…a forever of distance in white & when I eventually painted I think I intuitively tried to hold the black & white moment for me and I

    wedged it for keeps with Red’.[2] The colour combination can also be related to the primary colours of Russian Revolutionary art as practiced by El Lissitzky and Rodchenko (the artist’s declared gods), whose geometric symbolism impressed Frost with its vital clarity.

    While the title of this painting emphasises the importance of colour, form, specifically the polygon, is of equal importance. Frost described several transformative encounters with the Yorkshire landscape which inspired the device of the pentagon or polygon that first appeared in 1956. One such event involved a walk with Herbert Read near his home in Stonegrave in the Wolds, ‘Herbert lent me Wellingtons and we struggled through the snow, so deep it came over the tops…the angle of the hill seemed about 45 degrees and we had to lean to walk and counter the slope. It was a clear bright day and I looked up and

    saw the white sun spinning…on the top of black verticals. The sensation was true. I was spellbound and, of course, when I tried to look again ‘it’ had gone, just a sun and a copse on the brow of a hill covered in snow. I do remember my heart almost stopped at the experience and it was gone. So I came back and painted Red, Black and White 1956’.[3]


    Frost used the motif to create a sense of depth, the predominantly white area inside the polygon suggesting a separate space beyond, while at the same time emphasising the flatness of the pictures surface with vertical lines running or dripping down. The contrast of the strong compositional structure with a freer, more animated application of paint may reflect Frost’s response to other formative events which took place in 1956. It was in this year that the artist and his contemporaries saw the first British exhibition of American Abstract Expressionism at the Tate Gallery, which could have encouraged Frost’s expansive format and interest in the Sublime experience of landscape, as well as a greater appreciation of an expressive paint surface. 1956 was also the year in which Frost made several trips to Paris with Roger Hilton, meeting Pierre Soulages and perhaps most significantly the American artist, Sam Francis, whose use of dribbling paint was subsequently employed by Frost.


    This new development in form and technique did not go unnoticed. Writing in 1957, Patrick Heron admired, ‘In Frost’s new work an overtly geometric (and somehow symbolic) form lies involved in the downward-moving rain of pigment gestures…a

    broad compositional structural statement lying behind the beadcurtain of dribbles, that gives the picture that power and punch, that three-dimensional focus and concentration of space that no purely Tachist picture ever exhibits’.[4]








    Leamington Spa 1915 – 2003 Cornwall


    Terence Ernest Manitou Frost was born into a working class family on 13th October 1915 in Leamington Spa. Brought up by his grandparents, Frost was educated at Rugby Road School before attending Leamington Spa Central School from 11 to 14 years of age. After leaving school in 1930 he worked in various jobs. From 1932 to 1939, having joined the Territorial Army, he worked at Armstrong Whitworth in Coventry painting the wings of fighter planes and bombers. He was called up with the Army Reserve in 1939 and served in France, Palestine and Lebanon. After joining the Commandos he fought in Crete, where he was captured in 1941. As a prisoner of war he was interned in camps in Salonika and Poland, ending up in Stalag 383 in Bavaria. Encouraged by the young artist Adrian Heath, Frost began to draw and paint portraits of his fellow POWs.


    Following his return to Britain in 1945, Frost married Kathleen May Clarke and attended evening classes at Birmingham Art College. In 1946 he moved with his wife and child to Cornwall where they lived in a caravan before moving into a house in Quay Street, St

    Ives. At the suggestion of Adrian Heath he studied at Leonard Fuller’s St Ives School of Painting. From 1947 to 1950 Frost studied at Camberwell School of Art on an ex-serviceman’s grant. While attending traditional life classes with William Coldstream, Frost

    was strongly influenced by the advice and work of Victor Pasmore, who urged him to skip life class in order to spend time looking at paintings in the National Gallery. With Pasmore’s guidance, he produced his first abstract painting in 1949 based on the poem

    Madrigal by W.H. Auden.


    In 1950 Frost worked as an assistant to Barbara Hepworth on her sculpture for the Festival of Britain, Contrapuntal Forms. He taught a life drawing class at Bath Academy of Art, Corsham from 1952–4, where William Scott was head of painting and where Heath,

    Wynter and Lanyon also taught. In 1954 Frost was awarded a Gregory Fellowship at Leeds University and moved his family there while teaching at the Leeds School of Art until 1957. In 1960 he visited America for the first time and through the critic Clement Greenberg he met some of the leading U.S. painters of the day including Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Willem de Kooning and Robert Motherwell. In 1962 Frost and his family moved to Banbury and he taught part-time at Coventry Art College. He was made Artist in Residence at the Fine Art department of Newcastle University in 1964, became a full time lecturer at Reading University in 1965 and went on to become Professor of Painting there from 1977 to 1981. Frost moved to Newlyn, Cornwall in 1974. He was elected a Royal Academician in 1992 and was knighted in 1998.


    [1] The artist cited in Terry Frost Six Decades, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2000, p. 32.

    [2] Letter to Claude Rogers, 1965 in Chris Stephens, Terry Frost, St Ives Artists, Tate Publishing, London, 2000, p. 37.

    [3] The artist cited in David Lewis, Terry Frost, Lund Humphries, Aldershot, 2000, p.66.

    [4] P. Heron, ‘London’, Arts (N.Y.), vol. 32, no. 1, Oct. 1957, p.17.


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