After the dissolution of Painters Eleven in 1960, Ray Mead did not keep pace with the artistic output of some of his contemporaries, such as Bush, Town, and Ronald. Giving up painting altogether for most of the 1970s, Mead was suddenly inspired to resume painting by an odd dream in which “Hans Hofmann gave me a painting lesson and showed me a new way to paint. And all these things began to happen; perhaps it was my unconscious” (Nowell, Painters Eleven: The Wild Ones of Canadian Art, Douglas & McIntyre, 2010). Untitled (1987) belongs to Mead’s later body of work, which encompasses the paintings that he created during the 1980s and 1990s. Many critics consider the works painted during these decades to be his most iconic. Known for their distinctive black and white shapes accented with elements of intense colour, these mature compositions are playfully gestural and display a subtle aesthetic refinement that is less apparent in his work of the Painters Eleven period.
Untitled epitomizes Mead’s sophisticated composition and masterful manipulation of colour and form during his later years. Despite the flatness of the canvas, he creates a sense of depth and movement by layering colours and leaving patches of the underlying colour to show through. In keeping with Hofmann’s “Push and Pull” theory, which Mead learned from mentor Hortense Gordon, the black recedes into the background of the composition as the other colours advance into the foreground. The stark white of the central figure in particular seems to leap out of the canvas, whereas the abstract biomorphic forms and dynamically textural brushstrokes create a sense of vitality and evoke a pure, visceral response from the viewer.