Robert Medley

In June 2014 The Art Stable held an exhibition of paintings, drawings and prints by Robert Medley almost exactly twenty years after Kelly Ross, while co running the Coram Gallery in Bloomsbury, presented the last exhibition of Robert's work in June 1994. He died later that year. Introduced to Robert by the art critic Andrew Lambirth, we asked if he would like to exhibit at the recently opened Coram gallery and Robert, then aged 88, said he would, because he ‘liked to be there at the beginning of things’. That open minded willingness to embrace the new gave his work a freshness and vitality which one still feels in his work today. The day before we opened that exhibition, he was given a grand supper at the Royal Academy to celebrate his winning the Charles Woolaston prize. Influential members of the art gallery world gathered to pay their respects to an artist who continually investigated and questioned the artistic process and a man who affected everyone who had the privilege to know him with his warmth, charm and generous spirit.

As a young man Robert met members of the Bloomsbury Group including Vanessa and Clive Bell, Roger Fry and Duncan Grant. Grant was particularly encouraging to Robert as an artist and in the 1920’s, when Robert spent time in Paris, he often went sketching with Grant in the Louvre. In the 1930’s, with the ballet dancer Rupert Doone, Robert became involved with the innovative ‘Group Theatre’, working with W.H.Auden, Christopher Isherwood and Benjamin Britten. After the war, during which he was a camouflage officer based in the Middle East, Robert began to paint again, exhibiting regularly including major retrospectives at the Whitechapel in 1963 and the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford in 1984. He was awarded a CBE in 1982.

“What makes Medley’s work so rewarding and unusual is its dexterity. Dexterity in its strict sense refers to an inborn or acquired skill in dealing with, or being at home with, the tangible. Something close to the fingertips. Dexterity also implies panache, a quality of gesture. One can think of the cast of a master fly-fisherman. The stance of a prodigious violinist. The aim from the shoulder of a champion billiard player. Medley’s paintings have the concentration and elegance of such performances.” John Berger

This exhibition will include several screenprints which Medley made in the late 1970’s illustrating Milton’s ‘Samson Agonistes’ and inspired by the late cut-outs by Matisse. ‘I have always enjoyed reading poets in the contemporary editions. The typography is part of their epoch and the look of the page which we can touch and see is like entering their homes by the front door. It was not until I had completed a number of designs that it dawned on me that the freehand imperfections of paper cutting gave a rough kind of organic vitality that was right for, and perhaps was unconsciously influenced by, the irregularities of C17th popular printing.’

There were two editions of Samson Agonistes, the first group of 16 produced in 1978, measuring 68.5 x 52cm and the second group of 23 in 1981, measuring 51 x 40.5cm.