This Autumn Trent Galleries will be showcasing a remarkable new exhibition from the late Robert Lenkiewicz.
“Robert Lenkiewicz - Still Lives”, the largest exhibition of his work in over 15 years, recently closed at the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol and with it, Lenkiewicz is re-establishing his position as the artist ignored by the art establishment, but admired by the public for his skill and ability to communicate ideas about ordinary lives.
Since his premature death in 2002, much time has been consumed with dealing with legal issues and the complexities of a life lived in complete disregard for convention, but The Lenkiewicz Foundation is now pursuing a program of promoting and showing his work to wider audiences and Trent Galleries is delighted to be among only of an elite group of galleries to be presenting the artist’s first collection of fine art limited editions since the copyright passed to the Lenkiewicz Foundation in 2005.
“The Painter with Women: Observations on the Theme of the Double”, was an ironic look at Lenkiewicz’s own relationships and will be showcased at Trent Galleries from Saturday 5th to Sunday 13th November. Lenkiewicz had spent a great deal of time exploring private themed projects, in which he turn his unflinching eye inwards, investigating his own personal relationships, in particular what he called the “falling in love experience”. These he recorded with a manic intensity in paintings and notebooks, often in a more subjective, allegorical pictorial style. His conclusion in these investigations was that the addiction of the lover to the loved one was similar, if not identical, to the addiction of the alcoholic to drink or the fanatic to a belief. Thus was born his philosophy of “aesthetic fascism”, treating the other person as property. The exhibition features a fascinating range of published work from the artist's substantial archive material and previously-unseen notebooks and illustrated journals bequeathed to the Foundation.
The gallery has collaborated closely with The Lenkiewicz Foundation to curate a show that will convey something of the extraordinary talent of a man who was so unconventional in his lifestyle, and who attracted tabloid gossip and sensational stories wherever he went, defying the artistic establishment and yet mesmerised just about everyone else with his personality and painting talents.
Like most things in his life, Lenkiewicz adopted a unique position towards his own paintings. At an early age he made a conscious decision to subjugate his skill to a greater service: to become a “presenter of information” or a “sociological enquirer”, as he usually termed it. By this he meant to reveal the plain fact of a person or thing. For Lenkiewicz, the act of painting was a profoundly moving experience. “To paint oneself is to paint a portrait of someone who is going to die,” Lenkiewicz would often remark when asked about his many self-portraits. “And the same applies if one paints anybody else.” His main aim was to capture the transient and haunting qualities of his subject. He recognised the limitations of art and considered it second best to the mystery of his subject’s sheer existence.
Much of Lenkiewicz’s subject matter examined the lives of people existing on the fringes of society: the mentally and physically disadvantaged, the addicts, the criminals, the sick and dying. Many of the colourful characters he painted became an integral part of the Lenkiewicz legend, in particular the vagrant Edward McKenzie, known as “Diogenes”, and Albert Fisher, known as “The Bishop”. It should be remembered that these projects, both large in scale and ambition, were produced in an era dominated by abstraction, modernism and movements such as Pop Art,for example in the 1960s. To Lenkiewicz’s there was more humility involved in presenting one hundred images on a theme that didn’t worry about high art and attempting to make the perfect painting.
Francis Mallett, Chairman of the Lenkiewicz Foundation says: “Robert Lenkiewicz will be remembered as a genuine outsider and radical, consciously at odds with current thinking on ethical and artistic issues. He cared less about the opinion of the art critic than that of the man-in-the-street. His art is generous in its ability to communicate with ordinary people, who are little interested in the more esoteric world of contemporary art; it is democratic and humane but never sentimental. Above all, his paintings reveal people for what they are without moral judgement.
If the task of the artist is to show what it was to be alive in a certain time and in a certain place, then the qualities of Robert Lenkiewicz’s work will increasingly become clear to future generations.