'I was completely committed to the idea that paintings had to have a subject – the concept that the picture was itself the subject did not strike me at the time as convincing. I was able therefore to take what I needed from the example of the New York painters: it gave me the courage to leave an intuitive stroke undisturbed and to proceed towards further abstraction of my own kind by ruthlessly eliminating unnecessary descriptions...'
(Robert Medley, quoted by Andrew Lambirth, 'Robert Medley and the Central Tradition', Robert Medley: a Centenary Tribute, exh. cat., James Hyman Gallery, London, 2005, p.13).
Under the influence of the Abstract Expressionist movement emerging from America in the early 60s, Medley experimented with the freedom it afforded, whilst remaining aloof from its imperatives and subsequently, his paintings from the 1960s are some of the largest and most powerful of his career. However, contrary to the 'art for art's sake' impetus amongst some of his international contemporaries, he strongly believed that style should be determined by meaning; that form and content are, and should be, related by subject. Thus it is on the interplay of abstraction and figuration that he focuses his attention in the present work. As Andrew Lambirth has commented, the works from this period have 'an animated messiness, a fruitful disorder within which are the unmistakable traces of a deeper, more essential order' (Lambirth, ibid., p.15). Indeed, despite the ambiguous abstraction of the present work, there is a simultaneous relaxed clarity which is absent in his more fraught works. The soft greens mingle with chalky white and dusty lilac, creating an atmosphere of calm which emerges from within the composistion. As Lambirth has concluded, An Animal Metaphor is 'a quiet masterpiece which...has succeeded in creating something entirely new... (ibid. p.26).
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