Published 23rd September 2004
When Robert Lenkiewicz died on 5th August 2002 there was work in progress at seven different studios on and around The Barbican in Plymouth. Lenkiewicz had kept the existence of these studios unknown to all but a few and for a long period it was unclear whether all The Painter's private and secret places had been found. As the situation became clearer the studios revealed a fascinating indication of the working practice of the man and a glimpse into his lifestyle.
Robert Lenkiewicz attended St Martin's College of Art and Design, then The Royal Academy and worked in several inner city London Schools before moving to Lanreath in Cornwall. In 1970 he took his first premises on The Barbican at 25 The Parade.
The Lenkiewicz Studio Sale includes pictures, artefacts and furniture from The Main Studio and Library on the The Parade, St Saviour's Church at the top of Lambhay Hill, the tiny bed-sit studio in the basement of No 217 Citadel Road East and the huge dockyard warehouse on New Street called 'Theology' where there were rooms devoted to Still Life, Romney and the vast Last Supper commission.
The Main Studio and Library is a unique, imaginative and inspirational building. Through the narrow wood-panelled entrance, stairs lead up four flights past the reading rooms to a spectacular studio space. Dark, shuttered and pungent with oils, books, dust and the occasional waft of cooking from the café below, the heart of this space was dominated by one of the painter's easels. Dramatically lit by spotlights, the easel was a magnet for the painter's tools and debris. It was surrounded by hundreds of brushes and palettes, turpentine, rags, countless new and used tubes of paint, studio props, artefacts, canvases, stools and chairs. Off this space was The Print Room, where beneath more canvases and artefacts, including the coffin, saxophone and scythe (lots 265-267 & 317), a huge steel printing press had been installed on which exhibition posters and leaflets were produced and at the far end of the studio, the bedroom (see illustration – here the slightly cropped photo of the bedroom) with the monumental William and Mary half-tester bed and hundreds more paintings, drawings, Aesthetic Notes and artefacts including the Duchamp banner and oil lamps (lots 228 & 304).
Four further rooms, including a loft space where Lenkiewicz met and taught students, and a small office where Yana Travail often worked, adjoin the main space and a small toilet and the inevitable shower complete the floor.
The packed and oppressive library rooms on the stairs up to the studio are devoted to Art, Metaphysics, Death, Witchcraft, Psychology, Erotica and Sexual Behaviour, Religion and Literature. There was a small private office space in the Witchcraft room with a roll-top desk (lot 419) and carved oak armchair (lot 428). The bureau was hidden beneath piles of books, newspapers, notes, photographs, artefacts and fetish objects. Amongst these and included in the sale are the 'crystal ball' (lot 424) and the various hands (lots 420-422).
The embalmed body of Diogenese was hidden in The Death Room together with the Egyptian sarcophagus (lot 459), the human skeleton and skulls (lots 460-468).
Within the Lenkiewicz subconscious were vivid childhood images. Lenkiewicz describes 'One of the most intense experiences of my life' (Interview with The Painter, RO Lenkiewicz, White lane Press, Plymouth, 1997, pg 14) being the huge stallion at the riding stables in Kilburn where he crept about and sketched as a boy. One misty morning the horse suddenly spasmed and locked rigid with the great dark shaft of his penis silhouetted against the sun. The urine that splashed forth fractured and splintered like a firework on the cobbles below. Or the haemorrhaging woman at his parent's Hotel Shemtov in Hampstead 'that was really a lunatic asylum' (ibid.p.13), who grabbed Lenkiewicz's hand and shuddered, exploding crimson black blood through her face and over the ceiling and walls. Lenkiewicz was not scared, or disgusted, or shocked by these events, but full of wonder about 'the unutterable mystery of the sheer existence of things' (ibid pg 86).
So within 'the mystery' is one of the philosophical concepts threaded through the work of Lenkiewicz, to pull it together and enlighten it. This is one of the reasons he fought so hard to keep the body of Diogenese, his 'rather unusual philosophical artefact' (ibid pg 36). Lenkiewicz wanted us to see the difference between Diogenese and the embalmed remains. If we acknowledge that there is a difference, then we must ask 'Why?' and then 'Where is Diogenese?' In the company of the corpse we are aware of its 'total presence….and the total absence of the person' (ibid pg 37).
This too is why chairs play a recurring and significant part in many works. An empty chair can represent the space where someone or something once was and we can consider why the space is different without the presence. This is about 'thereness and not thereness' (ibid pg 86) and the relationship between things which for Lenkiewicz was at the heart of drawing.
Lenkiewicz developed a method of working which at first seems rather formal and at odds with the man. The 21 different 'Projects', as they were called, each had a theme or purpose based around 'sociological enquiries examining human physiology in a state of crisis' (ibid pg 9).
The Projects consisted of:-
|Project 2:||Death and the Maiden|
|Project 3:||Mental Handicap|
|Project 4:||Love and Romance|
|Project 5:||Love and Mediocrity|
|Project 6:||Paintings Designed to make Money: The Diogenes Con Show|
|Project 7:||Gossip of the Barbican|
|Project 11:||Old Age|
|Project 14:||The Painter with Mary (A Study of Obsessional Behaviour)|
|Project 16:||Sexual Behaviour|
|Project 17:||Observations on Local Education|
|Project 18:||The Painter with Women: Observations on the Theme of the Double|
|Project 20:||Addictive Behaviour|
|Project 21:||Paintings Painted Blind|
There are inevitable but fascinating and surprising places where the projects overlap and it is at these collision points that one has a glimpse into the bigger picture. If, for example, somewhere on the periphery of the experience of 'Love', 'Death' and 'Orgasm' there is common ground, the search and hunger for meaning is most profound.
The Projects produced a vast quantity of sketches, drawings and 'Aesthetic Notes', a useful term coined by Lenkiewicz for a picture, normally watercolour, accompanied by descriptive notes. These Aesthetic Notes are some of the most imaginative and interesting works (see lots 201, 505, 525 and inside the back cover for full transcripts), but it is often in the pencil, pen and ink drawings that the painter is at his most skilled and technical.
Among many other things, Lenkiewicz was a one-man publicity machine. When the subject of Lenkiewicz is discussed, it is inevitably greeted with a personal story. People met the man or their friends met him, they have a picture or their friends have one, they have a view or an opinion which is inevitably positive and enthused but often inquisitive and confused.
How could one man make time to paint and draw in such quantities? How could one man keep such detailed daily diaries, read countless ancient and modern books and start and maintain so many close and intense relationships? What was he doing and why was he doing it?
Lenkiewicz left his mark on The Barbican. If you need inspiration or refreshment drop-in to Prete's Café on Southside Street. On the end wall is another Lenkiewicz Last Supper mural in which Joe Prete, The Painter, Schloem, John, Marguaret, Alan, friends and family are all depicted watching you watching them. Look closely at the foreshortening and beautiful detail of the pink iced bun. Look at the texture of the teddy bear and then the Jester puppet. Feel the irony.
Lenkiewicz was inquisitive, ambivalent and ironic about the people and the world around him. Together with his artistic skills, perhaps this is why collectors are so fascinated and why they covet his work so highly. The Lenkiewicz Studio Sale provides the opportunity to own pictures and artefacts directly from the estate of the late Painter.