Frederick Spratt

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Frederick Spratt
Born (1927-05-22)May 22, 1927
Iowa, USA
Died April 29, 2008(2008-04-29) (aged 80)
San Jose, California
Nationality American
Education M.A. Art, State University of Iowa, 1951
Known for Painting, Sculpture, Installation
Movement Light and Space
Awards 85th and 84th Annual Exhibition, S.F.A.A, San Francisco Museum of Art, 1966 and 1965
Elected Professor of Art Emeritus at San Jose State University, 1989
Patron(s) San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, Triton Museum, SFMOMA, De Saisset Museum

Frederick Spratt (1927 – April 29, 2008) was an American artist and educator, best known for his exquisite color theory paintings.

Early life[edit]

Born in Iowa, Spratt was the grandson of a house painter from whom he received his first lessons in painting. He later built upon this early training during his adolescence as a sign painter. He received his MA in Studio Art from University of Iowa in 1951, and in 1954 he began teaching in the Art Department at San Jose State University,[1] where he taught the notable American figurative artist, Robert Graham (1938–2008) in 1961. In 1962 he took a sabbatical in England for one year, where he lived and painted representationally in St. Ives Cornwall, United Kingdom. During this period he created several figurative and landscape paintings.[2] He returned to San Jose, California, in 1963 and continued to teach at San Jose State University.[3]

Color theory painting[edit]

In 1970, he moved to Los Angeles and began to experiment with color theory while commuting via jet to SJSU for classes two times a week. Spratt was informed by the formalist art of Josef Albers, minimalist painting by Ellsworth Kelly and Ad Reinhardt, and abstract expressionist painting by Barnett Newman; his work was also deeply influenced by his early days as a sign painter.[4] Spratt’s color theory work is celebrated for its mutability—changing with the available light, time of day and season of year, with each viewer and with each viewing. During the 1960s in Los Angeles, many California artists were creating work that focused on the surface qualities of a work of art—a tendency that generated the descriptive phrase “finish fetish”—an immaculate, glistening, often translucent surface which conveys the look of a refined industrial process.[5] For thirty years he experimented with color theory in three main series: Semaphores, Scrolls and Diptychs, all of which are characterized by their flat application of acrylic lacquer onto aluminum. In 2004 Spratt described his artistic endeavor in the following way: “It seemed I was seeking a way to put paint in the service of art while freeing it from the harness of depiction or narration. To let color be its own narrative through its combination and by the palpability of painted fields.” [6] Several of his paintings from the 1970s were exhibited nationally at O.K. Harris Gallery, New York, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and at Janus Gallery, Los Angeles in 1976 and 1978, respectively. This same year he returned to San Jose and, after five short years, opened his own gallery—Frederick Spratt Gallery[7]—in 1993. In 2004, the Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara, California, mounted a solo exhibition of his color theory works entitled Trooping the Colors. In 2008 an important retrospective—Fred Spratt: Color and Space— was held at the San Jose Museum of Art in San Jose, California. Another notable institutional show was Ten California Colorists, a group exhibition in 1985 that traveled to Redding Art Museum, San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, Palm Springs Desert Museum, Montgomery Gallery at Pomona College and University Art Museum at the University of New Mexico.

Personal life[edit]

Frederick Spratt is survived by his daughter Kris and sons Mike and Shahn Spratt.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Artshift San Jose » Blog Archive » Recalling The Momentious Sixties And Seventies
  2. ^ Contemporary Art America (1969 University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign), page 158
  3. ^ ArtSlant - February 16th, 2008 - July 6th, 2008, San Jose Museum of Art, Fred Spratt
  4. ^ Peter Selz, West Coast Report: Plastics into Art (New York: Art in America, May–June 1968) 114
  5. ^ Peter Plagens, Unslick in L.A. (New York: Art in America, 1978) 85
  6. ^ Frederick Spratt, Trooping the Colors (Santa Clara: Triton Museum of Art, 2004) 8
  7. ^ ArtSlant - Frederick Spratt Gallery