The St Ives artist’s abstracted works are celebrated for their overt optimism, vivid palette and sensual forms, his interpretation of the Cornish coast where he lived.
But though these works often command six-figure sums at auction (the current record, according to Art Sales Index, stands at £313,250 from a 2011 Sotheby’s London sale), their success in the market is subject to fluctuations in fashion and taste.
Richard Blackborow of the Belgrave St Ives gallery, which launches the exhibition Terry Frost: A Book of Ideas this month (June 19-July 15), is familiar with these ebbs and flows.
“There was a lot of interest in his works in the period after he died. In 2004 we were selling prints of his on a daily basis. Then his market went through a bit of lull but we’ve noticed it pick up recently,” Blackborow tells ATG.
And the upcoming exhibition seems to confirm this upturn as more than half the works on offer have already sold from the gallery’s website, well in advance of being hung on its walls.
The basis for the show is a large – 18 x 14½in (46 x 37cm) per sheet – cloth-bound sketchbook containing more than 50 paintings and collages that the artist produced in the 1970s and early ‘80s. Many are preparatory sketches or contain themes recognisable in Frost’s finished works and none has been shown publically before. Now, Belgrave offers 32 single and double pages from the book.
“His market went through a bit of a lull but we’ve noticed it pick up recently
Initially, after the sketchbook was found in the artist’s collection several years ago, both his family and the gallery (which represents his estate) hoped to give it a home in a museum or private gallery intact. It was only after a struggle to place it that the gallery decided to separate the pages and sell them that way.
Fortunately, according to Blackborow, it is likely that the artist had the future of the pieces in mind when working on the book.
He says: “Terry didn’t paint on the back of some of the stronger pieces and he had signed some of them. It seems to be an indication that he had the possibility of separation in mind when he was working.”
The complete book has been preserved in a digital flipbook and parts of it are included in the exhibition catalogue.
One element of the works the gallery was intent on preserving was a contemplative side which informed even Frost’s liveliest works; what Blackborow says is a “solid intellectual underpinning that comes across in the sketches”.
The exhibition is a chance to see some of the quieter works which complement and complete the more bombastic works of one of Britain’s leading abstract artists of the 20th century.