Biography for Sir Terry Frost OBE (1915 - 2003)

Sir Terry Frost was born in Leamington Spa in 1915 and spent his early years in Coventry before fighting in France, Palestine, Crete and the Middle East in World War Two. He first began to paint during the four years he spent as a prisoner of war in Germany when he met the artist Adrian Heath, who persuaded him to become an artist in his own right. After the war Frost lived in a caravan while studying at the St Ives School of Painting in Cornwall. He then attended Camberwell School of Art on an ex-serviceman’s grant from 1947 to 1950 where, under the guidance of Victor Pasmore and St Ives artists such as Ben Nicholson and Peter Lanyon, he moved into abstraction after beginning in the Euston Road Group realist tradition. Frost returned to St Ives upon leaving Camberwell, where he worked as Barbara Hepworth's assistant on Contrapuntal Forms (1951) for the Festival of Britain.

Frost’s early work was figurative, though it included objects simplified into coloured shapes. His first non-representational work was Madrigal (1949), in which he conveyed emotion through a formal pictorial language of coloured rectangles, triangles and diamonds. In 1956 he moved to Yorkshire as the Gregory Fellow at Leeds University, where works such as Blue Winter (1956) were inspired by Frost's professed desire to create an ‘abstract image-equivalence’ for his experiences that was inspired by the Tate gallery’s show of American Abstract Expressionists. Although Frost's work rejected specific images, he slowly built up a vocabulary of signs, chevrons, discs, crescents, arrowheads, lozenges, triangles, spirals, and horizontal shafts that is best typified in works such as M17 from 1962.

His first one man exhibition was held at the Leicester Galleries in London in 1952 and at the Bertha Schaefer Gallery in New York in 1960. Frost was made a member of the Penwith Society in St Ives, where he lived from 1959–63, and was Artist in Residence at the Fine Art Department of Newcastle University in 1964. In 1965 he took up a position as a full time lecturer at the Department of Fine Art of Reading University and was Professor of Painting there from 1977 to 1981. Solo exhibitions include the ICA, London (1971) and the Serpentine Gallery, London (1976) organised by the Arts Council and South West Arts, touring to Newcastle, Bristol, Leeds, Chester, Birmingham and Plymouth.

Sir Terry Frost was one of the forerunners of abstract painting in Britain, and his use of vivid colours can be traced back to his time as a prisoner, almost in antithesis of the drab, dull world in which he found himself. He believed the experience left him with a ‘heightened perception’ of the world which encouraged him to paint. Painting and printmaking were always at the centre of his work and Frost considered them inseparable, with one medium creating ideas for the other. 

A retrospective exhibition of his work was held at the Mayor Gallery, London in 1990 and in 2000 a major retrospective, 'Terry Frost: Six Decades', was held at the Royal Academy of Arts, London. Frost has also participated in many group shows since 1953, and his work is held in many corporate and private collections throughout the world.

Terry Frost was elected Royal Academician 1992 and received a knighthood in 1998. He lived and worked in Newlyn, Cornwall.

Terry Frost died on 1st September 2003

Recent Solo Exhibitions

  • 2001 Mead Gallery, University of Warwick
  • 2000 Royal Academy of Arts, Sackler Galleries Beaux Arts, London
  • 1997 Belgrave Gallery, London
  • 1995 Green on Red Gallery, Dublin McGeary Gallery, Brussels
  • 1994 Mayor Gallery, London
  • 1992 Adelson Gallery, New York

Selected Public Collections

  • British Museum, London Tate Gallery
  • London National Gallery of Canada
  • National Gallery of New South Wales Australia
  • Victoria and Albert Museum
  • London European Commission Conference Centre, Brussels