DONALD HAMILTON FRASER
Donald Hamilton Fraser is a highly acclaimed British painter. Fraser dramatised his subjects with bold colours and a confident brush. His work employs a language of visual metaphor in which abstract and descriptive elements combine to express a heightened experience of the subject. His vibrant landscapes and bold still lifes were highly acclaimed during his life time and his work was widely exhibited in London, Paris and New York.
Donald Hamilton Fraser was born in London to Scottish parents. His father was an antiques dealer, and Fraser’s childhood was spent surrounded by beautiful objects and art. Fraser developed a keen interest in literature, reading voraciously and writing poetry, and he began to train as a journalist with Kemsley Newspapers. During a period of national service in the Royal Air Force in the late 1940s, Fraser became increasingly interested in the visual arts and enrolled at the prestigious St. Martin's School of Art from 1949 to 1952 alongside notable contemporaries including Jack Smith, Leon Kossoff, Frank Auerbach and his close friend Peter Kinley. For many young artists in the early 1950s, they felt a need to become either an abstract or a figurative artist. Fraser did not feel these had to be mutually exclusive, and an exhibition of the work of Nicolas de Staël at Matthiesson's on Bond Street in 1952 acted as catalyst to reconcile these two styles within his work.
Whilst still at St. Martin's his work was regularly selected for inclusion in exhibitions by the London Group, The Young Contemporaries, Artists International Association and the Arts Council's travelling exhibitions. His first solo exhibition took place at Gimpel Fils in 1953 and later that year Fraser was awarded a French Government Scholarship, to live and study in Paris for a year. The following year he married Judith Wentworth-Shields, a graphic designer who had also attended St. Martin’s, at the British Embassy in Paris.
Fraser’s predominant subject matter was the landscape. Inspired by the Scottish landscape of his ancestors, he combined this with his affinity with French modern painting experienced first hand in Paris. Fraser’s landscapes were executed with vibrant colours and broad brushstrokes. He layered thick bright paint with a palette knife to produce an almost collage-like effect. Fraser’s landscapes remain close to their origins whilst forming abstract almost dream-like fields of colour. Contrasting in style, and highlighting Donald's diversity, are his wonderful chalk and wash drawings of dancers, executed in a naturalistic style, which contrasted with the semi-abstraction of his landscapes. Each one captures individual character and emotion whilst revealing his intimate knowledge of dance.
Returning to England in 1955, Donald Hamilton Fraser wrote for Arts Review for as a way of supplementing his artist's income but was soon able to focus entirely on his painting. In 1956 Galerie Craven held a solo exhibition in Paris and Gimpel Fils continued to hold numerous one man shows of his work. By the end of the decade the prestigious Paul Rosenberg Gallery, who was the American dealer for Nicolas de Staël, whom Fraser deeply admired, held his first one man show in New York. In 1955 Fraser won The Daily Express Young Artists Competition, and the Contemporary Art Society purchased one of his paintings. In the Autumn of 1955 he was further singled out by the art critic Eric Newton for first of a series of exhibitions to be held at Arthur Tooth & Sons. Along with Fraser, Newton selected Graham Sutherland, Leonard Rosoman, Stafen Knapp and Phillip Sutton for this pivotal exhibition.
From 1958 to 1983 Fraser taught at the Royal College of Art, one day a week. During this fellowship, he taught many notable young artists that would go on to be leading figures of their generation, including David Hockney, Ronald Brooks Kitaj, Patrick Caulfield and Thesese Oulton. Fraser became a Fellow of the Royal College of Art in 1970 and was elected as a member of the Royal Academy in 1975. Since this time Fraser undertook work for various committees and organisations connected with art and artists such as the Artists' General Benevolent Institution from 1981 to 1987 and in 1986 he was elected as Vice President of the Royal Overseas League and a member of the Royal Fine Art Commission.
In 1967 he started to make silkscreen prints and this medium continued to be an active aspect of his later work. In the late 1970s he was invited along with seven other artists to undertake a ceramic project in the Edinburgh Ceramic Workshop. This was a project sponsored by the Scottish Arts Council and entitled "Earth Images". He was also invited to be one of ten British artists to travel through Israel in 1979 with the objective of producing an exhibition of work resulting from the individual experience of the country, to be entitled "Israel Observed".
Throughout his life Fraser contributed to various artistic journals and ballet magazines, and wrote two books; “Gaugin’s Vision after the Sermon” in 1969 and “Dancers. A Book of Ballet Paintings” in 1989. In Fraser’s later years, he received many private and public commissions and took part in frequent gallery exhibitions throughout Britain. W. H. Patterson held a two-man exhibition in our Mayfair gallery in March 2000, in which every picture was sold within the first two days, and Fraser was a regular contributor to W. H. Patterson's prestigious Venice In Peril exhibitions in the years leading up to his death in 2009. Shortly before he passed away, two major retrospectives of his work were held in London at Arthur Ackerman and the CCA Galleries.