Robert Oxley | Primal Colours

As he looked Maya the jaguar in the eyes, animal artist Robert Oxley felt an instant connection. Brought to life on canvas by his passionate brushstrokes, the star of BBC Two’s Big Cats About the House embodied the lifeblood of his striking new Primal Colours collection: kinship. “ It really gets the blood pumping. For me, I see a brother or a sister, ” Robert explains. “ As children, we learn to read and identify animals together. For this body of work, I wanted to give meaning to humble creatures made more fragile in an ever-changing world. I went back to basics with my paints to show that we are all from a primal source, from the same forest and the same stream .” But basic certainly doesn’t have to mean boring. Animal instincts are personified by a stripped-back colour palette which explodes with fluorescent red, lemon yellow, blue, magenta and turquoise. Robert says: “ Keeping my palettes basic and vibrant has given me a whole new world of colour to play with. It allowed me to grow in a way I’d previously never thought possible. ” Delving into the history of animals, Robert immersed himself in a subject which spans thousands of years. From cave paintings and ancient bestiaries to the illustrations of American ornithologist John James Audubon and contemporary artists like Martin Wittfooth and Walton Ford, it was journey that heightened Robert’s psychedelic affinity with the animal kingdom.

He adds: “ I draw artistic strength and symbolic power from transforming animals into folklorist heroes. I think that early man – for instance at the Lascaux caves, or the petroglyphs and symbology of early civilisation – buried something deep in our psyche, and in doing so sparked the start of psychedelic art. I like to include the supernatural or depict animals as totems and idols. ” Swirling within the psychedelic paintings are memories from Robert’s childhood and time as a fledgling artist. “ It reminded me of being back at junior school and painting with those little watercolour cakes. ” he explains. “ I would have a raging tantrum if anyone muddied the colours – I’d get primal! Then when I worked at an arts and crafts superstore, I encouraged customers to mix colours instead of buying paints they didn’t need. ” Robert’s vivid perspective of the world is shaped by an intrinsic belief that animals and humans are one and the same. He adds: “ With this collection, I wanted to go back to school. I thought: ‘Let’s see what happens if I use only primary colours’ – no more natural palettes, no browns or greys. I want to show people a new way of looking at our natural history, and I can do this using colour. ”


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