Sir Terry Frost



In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Sir Terry Frost 1915–2003
Aquatint on paper
Image: 353 × 251 mm
Purchased 1986

Display caption

Like Reg Butler, whose work hangs alongside, Frost was one of a young generation of British artists whom Read helped to promote in the 1950s. This print relates to the painting by Frost, also in this room.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

P77162 Composition 1957

Aquatint 353 × 251 (13 7/8 × 9 7/8) on laid paper 450 × 359 (17 3/4 × 14 1/8); plate-mark 356 × 254 (14 × 10); printed and ?published by the artist at Leeds College of Art in an edition of 7
Inscribed ‘Frost 57’ and ‘Terry Frost 57’ below image b.r. and ‘3/7’ below image b.l.
Purchased from Redfern Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1986
Lit: Philip James, Terry Frost: Retrospective, exh. cat., Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne 1964 [pp.5–7]; David Brown, Terry Frost, Terry Frost: Paintings, Drawings and Collages, exh. cat., Plymouth City Art Gallery 1976, pp.14–15
Repr: British Prints: The Post-War Years 1945–60, exh. cat., Redfern Gallery 1986, p.18

The artist made this aquatint at Leeds College of Art where he taught for one year in 1956–7, after completing a two-year Gregory Fellowship in painting at Leeds University. Elizabeth Knowles, an expert on Frost's work, told the compiler in conversation on 2 May 1995 that neither she nor the artist could be certain that the edition was published. After Frost's move in 1954 from St Ives to Yorkshire his art changed significantly. In a letter to the compiler dated 8 August 1989, the artist wrote, ‘It was the whole change of visual experience in the North that opened my eyes and set my imagination alive’. The impact of the northern landscape, especially during the winter snows, led him to use stronger contrasts of black and white and to give a vertical emphasis to his paintings.

P77162 is one of a large number of works by Frost of the mid-1950s which are dominated by an irregular shape formed by a variable number of straight sides, and sometimes referred to as a hexagon, though examples often have fewer or, as in P 77162, more than six sides.

Among a number of paintings dominated by this form is ‘Red, Black and White’, 1956 (repr. James 1964, no.18). In the catalogue to his 1976 Arts Council retrospective (pp.14–15), Frost explained how, following a lunch with Sir Herbert Read in about 1956, he was inspired to paint ‘Red, Black and White’:

This painting was again the result of the true experience of Black and White in Yorkshire ... I drove through the snow and had lunch with Herbert Read at his house at Stonegrave. After lunch we went for a walk. Herbert lent me wellingtons and we strolled or struggled through the snow ... 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 a copse. Afterwards and now I recall that I thought I saw a naples yellow blinding circle spinning on 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 ... So I came back and I painted ‘Red, Black and White’ 1956. I didn't come back and just paint the picture ... I always have to absorb the moments and let them go for I have to make the idea, the discovery.

Asked by the compiler whether P77162 was inspired by the walk with Sir Herbert Read referred to above, whether particular marks in the print refer to particular motifs and whether there were reasons for his having, in this print, approximately inverted the compositional scheme of ‘Red, Black and White’, the artist replied:

Events trigger off ideas. The happening with Herbert Read was a confirmation of an idea and a moment of magic, confirmation of thought. It's impossible to dissect the way in which a painting is made. The hexagonal did refer to the sun, but nothing is a copy of anything, it's a making of something for itself that connects in paint with the idea.

When interviewed in 1977 for a BBC Omnibus film ‘Colour Positive’ (extract published in David Lewis, Terry Frost, 1994, p.229), Frost also linked the hexagonal shape to another experience in the winter of 1956–7:

I had an old blue Bedford van, which was the first vehicle I had. You must have had that feeling when you go out in the morning to start the damn thing, cold winter's morning, sharp, beautiful, very cold. Not a spark of life from the battery, and I had to wind and wind; you know, you get as sick as hell; and as I looked up I saw that beautiful sun - because I was making a circle I suppose as I was winding. I never thought of that at the time. There was that beautiful sun absolutely clear, the air was so cold, and then I had to go and see if I could get a battery from somewhere, so I had to walk through the grounds of Tetley Hall; and in walking through the grounds the sun sort of got behind the trees, and I had to go through a wall which had some under-growth and stuff around it, and so I had to get down, and in getting down I experienced the movement of going through, and of coming through the other side to the sun again, spinning behind the trees.

The artist continued to use a hexagon in his paintings, using it so frequently that he sometimes referred to it as ‘my shape’. The hexagon shape and other abstract shapes in Frost's works are nearly always based on experiences of nature.

A further painting by Frost to which the image of P 77162 is still closer is ‘Khaki and Lemon’, 1956 (T00268, repr. John Rothenstein, The Tate Gallery, 1962, p.260). Of this painting the artist wrote on 15 June 1959, ‘The painting is just one of a series I did on that theme in 1956–7, a theme which grew out of the experience of being in the North, the “subject” cannot be fixed to any one moment’.

There is an impression of P77162 titled ‘Verticals and Sun’ in the collection of the British Museum. It is not numbered but is signed and dated at bottom right. Terry Frost was often unspecific about titling his work and has been unable to confirm whether P77162 should be titled ‘Verticals and Sun’ or ‘Composition’. It has been decided to retain the title under which it was exhibited in British Prints: The Post-War Years 1945–60 at the Redfern Gallery in 1986. (The title had been provided by the artist to the Redfern Gallery.) The British Museum owns a further lithograph, also titled ‘Verticals and Sun’, 1957 (repr. Frances Carey and Antony Griffiths, Avant-Garde British Printmaking 1914–1960, 1990, p.187) which relates closely to P77162. Both of the British Museum prints mentioned above were purchased from the artist and appear with the same title in the British Museum's Department of Prints and Drawings registration book. Also similar to P77162 is ‘Orange and Brown Sun’, 1957 (repr. Terry Frost Prints 1948–1990, exh. cat., Austin/Desmond Contemporary Books 1990, p.5 in col.).

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996

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