Sir Terry Frost

Thamar and Amnon


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Sir Terry Frost 1915–2003
Original title
Thamar Y Amnon
Etching on paper
Image: 555 × 376 mm
Lent by the American Fund for the Tate Gallery, courtesy of David and Renée McKee 2003
On long term loan


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).

Thamar and Amnon is rendered in washes of cool colour; this is the most painterly of the prints in the portfolio. A large green crescent against a dark blue background dominates the top of the image. Red and black chevrons resembling birds against a waning moon provide a sense of urgency and motion. In the bottom half of the print a larger black chevron is capped with a red swirl against a bright green background. Below the band of green the print becomes increasingly black, with an earthy wash of red seeping from the crux of the large chevron.

The poem on which Thamar and Amnon is based is a heady, sensual description of incestuous desire. Seeing his sister’s naked body in the moonlight, Amnon is driven into a lustful frenzy that culminates in rape. Frost’s print transcribes the parched world of Lorca’s ballad to a watery blue and green landscape. Asked to comment on his print’s relation to the poem, Frost said, ‘It’s got the wind in it, it’s got the terribleness. There’s a bit of turbulence in the brushstrokes – I’m usually much cooler than that ... It’s a shattering [poem]’ (quoted in Linda Saunders, ‘Frost and the Duende’, Terry Frost, p.224).

Further reading:
David Lewis, David Archer, Ronnie Duncan, Adrian Heath and Linda Saunders, Terry Frost, Aldershot, Hants, 2000, reproduced p.219 in colour.
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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