In June 1994, I had the great pleasure of curating Robert Medley’s last solo exhibition, before he died later that year, a year in which he was also presented with the Charles Wollaston award by the Royal Academy.
This exhibition will include a selection of work from the last twenty years of his life, including straight edged abstract work of the early 1970’s, collages and screen prints relating to the portfolio illustrating Milton’s Samson Agonistes, published in 1978, a wonderful large oil painting from 1988, as well as drawings from all periods.
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.” This was written by John Berger, the art critic, poet and novelist. While selecting this exhibition we found in the estate, a wonderful drawing of John Berger which we have included in the show.
This exhibition will include several collages and screenprints which Medley made in the late 1970’s illustrating Milton’s ‘Samson Agonistes’ and inspired by the late cut-outs by Matisse, which Robert was a great enthusiast for, making a programme for Radio 3 about them. He had been thinking about Samson, since 1948, when he painted two pictures on the theme, but began to work on the idea of a portfolio in the mid 1970’s, working up the ideas with collage and then to a portfolio of twenty three screen prints.