Too young to be turning 90
NINETY? He can’t be. Sharply dressed: silk cravat at his throat, soul mate on his arm and with the lightest of steps Harry Frost celebrated a milestone birthday this week looking everything, but his age.
Dapper, spry, delightful: yes. Nine decades old: no.
But this nationally renowned Warwick artist – creator of country music’s Holy Grail, The Golden Guitar, winner of 118 Australian art awards, with work in private collections across the globe – insists it’s the truth.
“I was born in Armidale in 1920; I was the youngest, I had three sisters and one brother.
“When I was born my father was a grazier, but by the time I was old enough to remember we’d moved into Tamworth and was working on the railways.”
It was from his mother he inherited his artistic bent: “She used to paint, but she was never very good.
“Though I never mentioned it, I’ve always been tactful.”
From his father came a scholarly aptitude for mathematics. Yet even in those early school boy days the two qualities collided.
“I was forever drawing in my school books and if my teacher saw my pictures she’d say ‘yes very nice, but now back to your sums’.”
In those pre-World War II days he took her advice: Signing up to become an engineer with the Royal Australian Air Force.
He saw action in New Guinea, before returning home to a peacetime job with the newly formed East West airlines in Tamworth.
“I did come back and study art in Sydney for a while as well. I think I was always trying to work out how I could just be an artist.”
He sees no conflict between artistic creativity and the symmetry of mathematics that forms engineering’s basis.
“Art, nature, faces, animals are all about maths; proportions, ratios.”
And even now at 90, at a time when he is instantly recognised in Australian art circles, Harry Frost is still chasing perfection.
“Once you are satisfied; once you think you can’t get any better, you may as well give it away,” he explained.
“The next painting is always going to be better. That is the way it is for me. Not being satisfied means you keep moving forward, working on things.”
Of course, not everything in the life of this dapper artisan falls in the latter category.
There are simply some things he wouldn’t change: like the 25-plus years he has spent with his life partner, fellow artist Quita Hamer.
If relationships were paintings, theirs would be eerily close to perfect.
“We have never had a cross word; we might get annoyed with one another from time to time but that’s it,” Mr Frost explained.
“We share ESP (extra sensory perception): I know what Quita wants before she tells me and vice versa.
“It has been like that since the beginning for us.”
Both survived the battlefield of earlier, unhappy relationships and still marvel at the peacefulness they have found together.
“I actually knew Harry when we were younger and if you had said way back then that one day I would be with Harry Frost, I would have said you were mad,” Ms Hamer said.
“But there I was in my 50s and Harry was renting a part of my ceramics studio.
“When I sold up and decided to go overseas he said ‘I am coming with you’.”
Fittingly it was in the world’s most romantic city, standing in Paris looking up at the Eiffel Tower that they realised they loved being together.
Today they share almost everything: his son, her children and grandkids, art space on the walls of the Rose City home, constructive artistic criticism and a gentle love.
But there is one thing still too solitary for even these soul mates.
“We both have separate studios; I can’t work with Harry looking over my shoulder and he likes his creative space too,” Ms Hamer explained.
“We paint most days; but creativity isn’t something you can force. You had to paint when you feel inspired.”
Her partner agreed. But, creative urges aside, he took some time off this week to celebrate his 90th with family and friends.
Yet Harry Frost leaves no doubt that there are a lot of canvases to go before this he packs up his paints and palettes.