Catalogue entry

Robert Medley 1905-1994

T01286 Three over Four 1970

Inscribed on reverse: ‘No “3” Robert Medley. 70’.
Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 72 (183 x 183).
Purchased from the artist through the Lisson Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1971.
Exh: Lisson Gallery, March 1971 (3).

At the Lisson Gallery T01286 was hung with the black square occurring towards the top of the right edge, but the artist subsequently decided (letter of 30 September 1971) that its orientation should correspond to that of the signature on the reverse; the black square thus occurs towards the left end of the top edge.

The artist wrote (6 August 1971) that the inscription on the reverse referred not to the title but to the installation at the Lisson Gallery exhibition. The picture was painted in August 1970. The title was ‘descriptive of the turning movement in the picture (3/4 time)’. There were three preliminary versions—two pencil drawings and a ‘sketch rather different [from T01286] but still emphatic in colour 30 x 30 in. (acrylic—“Aquatex”).’

‘The picture is a square divided into 3 and it revolves round a square which is centrally placed (exactly). The design depends on this and its exploitation also of the diagonal of 2 squares... I had originally intended to try a red white and blue picture but the area divisions weren’t quite right for this. In the sketch I had to modify the blue in order to get it to work, and so when I came to doing the large one I turned it into black which had the advantage of simplifying or rather clarifying by an extreme statement the intention of the design.’

‘About 4 years ago I decided that the kind of anthropomorphic gestural abstract form was no longer a profitable line for me. I wanted something which operated in a slower and more certain manner.’

‘Painting off the nerves is all very well but it tends to emphasize sensibility and feeling and encourage an “open-ended situation” which didn’t in my case seem to be sufficient.’

The new paintings though more formal in idiom were essentially concerned with Medley’s constant preoccupations through the years. ‘These are basically movement and the sense of light in space. The control of space is important. These factors have always been deployed by means of a line which can needle into space and by colour. In abandoning gestural painting and enclosing very simple forms in an outline-emphasising area and shape contrasts the movement (as in a line), still functions along the edges of the forms. This is a limitation and a strength arising from my characteristics. For this reason too many of the paintings remain within a close tonal range supported by a line. At the same time the meaning I intend to give to the design I try now to put in the most positive and definite way I can and with the clearest contrasts in form and colour and light and dark.’

As well as the foregoing preoccupations, Medley considers his work to be based on ‘the human body, its heart beat (its rhythm), its stride, its extent, its movement and psychologically (philosophically) to make a kind of web or trap or mandala that the human mind can inhabit at leisure with some possibility of enduring pleasure. The pictures are analogies. It’s got to trap and intrigue by clarity and must engage without representing anything mysterious’.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1970–1972, London 1972.