Sir Terry Frost The Spinster at Mass 1989

Artwork details

Artist
Sir Terry Frost 1915–2003
Title
The Spinster at Mass
La Soltera En Misa
Date 1989
Medium Etching on paper
Dimensions Image: 556 x 378 mm
Collection
Lent by the American Fund for the Tate Gallery, courtesy of David and Renée McKee 2003
On long term loan
Reference
L02491
View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Summary

Frost was a major figure in the second generation of St Ives artists. Although he is primarily known as an abstract painter, printmaking was a major part of his artistic output throughout his career. The prints in the series Eleven Poems by Federico Garcia Lorca were produced to accompany a suite of poems by Spanish poet and dramatist Federico García Lorca (1898-1936) printed in the original Spanish and in English translation. Work on Frost’s colour intaglio prints in this series was overseen first by painter and graphic designer Gordon House and then by printmaker Hugh Stoneman. The poems and prints were published by Austin/Desmond Contemporary Books, London in 1989 in a solander box designed by the artist. In the box each print rests inside a paper folder on which the respective poem is printed. In addition Frost decorated the exterior of the box and designed a title page for the portfolio. The suite was produced in an edition of seventy-five plus fifteen artist’s copies; Tate’s copy is the fourth of ten artist’s proofs.

Widely regarded as one of Spain’s greatest writers, Lorca was killed by pro-Franco forces in the early days of the Spanish Civil War. Along with his literary achievements his early death sealed his posthumous reputation as a political martyr. Frost began reading Lorca’s poetry in depth in the 1970s and was inspired by the poet’s visual imagery, particularly his emotive descriptions of colour. The artist’s first print made in response to a Lorca poem was a 1974 screenprint entitled Variations. In the late 1980s Frost obtained copyright to English translations of several of Lorca’s poems and began work on the images in this portfolio. Recalling this period of his life, Frost proclaimed his admiration for the poet, saying, ‘Lorca is so simple, and so direct, and so full of colour and ideas. I was so much in love with the poetry at that time’ (quoted in Terry Frost: Six Decades, p.69).

The Spinster at Mass is composed in black and red on a white background. A wide horizontal strip of black at the top of the print is echoed by parallel lines of red and black near the bottom. Below the lines are two rows of half-ovals; the upper row are outlined in black and roughly filled in with red, while in the lower row the forms are slightly larger and solid black. The middle of the composition features four larger truncated oval shapes, two of which appear to be encroaching from each side of the image. Each of these forms is filled in with black dots. The lower forms also include red squiggles on the left and red dots on the right. Between the oval forms thin lines form a cobweb-like pattern. Three simple crosses punctuate the space.

Lorca’s poem is a description of a pious spinster at mass. The poet suggests the repressed sensuality in the incensed air in the lines ‘Give the black melons of your breasts / to the murmur of the mass’. The rounded forms in Frost’s print suggest the spinster’s hidden breasts and the beads of her rosary, while the sectioned off composition indicates her outward composure. Frost discussed the use of black and red in relation to the Lorca portfolio, saying, ‘Black and Red become a symbol for death and life, lust, passion, tenderness, fear, love’ (quoted in Terry Frost, p.216).

Further reading:
David Lewis, David Archer, Ronnie Duncan, Adrian Heath and Linda Saunders, Terry Frost, Aldershot, Hants, 2000.
Mel Gooding and Isabel Carlisle, Terry Frost: Six Decades, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2000.
Chris Stephens, St Ives Artists: Terry Frost, London, 2000.

Rachel Taylor
July 2004

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