An exhibition featuring the work of painter Robert Lenkiewicz is opening at London’s Halcyon Gallery this month.
Lenkiewicz died in August 2002 aged 60 of heart problems, and the exhibition will mark the fifth anniversary of his death.
He was born in London in 1941, the son of Jewish refugees from Germany and Poland who escaped Nazi persecution.
His parents ran a number of shelters for elderly Holocaust survivors, leading to the opening of the Hotel Shem-Tov which housed 60 residents as well as Robert and his two brothers, and influenced his artwork.
In an interview with Lenkiewicz in 1997, he revealed more of his background:
“My parents had a Jewish hotel that was really a lunatic asylum. It was called the Hotel Shemtov, the Hotel ‘Good-name’. It had sixty rooms and there they were: Mrs Jacobus, Mrs Frankl, Mrs Webber, Mrs Maxwell, Dickie Valentine’s grandmother, Mr Meyers, Mrs Levi and so it went on. All of them were elderly, all of them half-crazed; many of them were survivors from Auschwitz, Treblinka and Buchenwald with stories to tell.”
He added: “It was the most extraordinary place. I was introduced to mental illness, human suffering and death at a very early age and thought it salutary and thought provoking. My first sitters were those people; they all posed for me on huge canvases from the age of eleven onwards. I worked in Room 3, which had green lino, prolifically and totally obsessively. When I look back on it now, I was as crazed as the rest of them.”
Lenkiewicz studied at St Martin’s School Of Art and taught in London for a number of years before relocating to Plymouth. His early life led to a fascination with disadvantaged people and he made a name for himself for his artistic work featuring vagrants.
Lenkiewicz also attracted controversy for some of his art, which included embalming a tramp and painting nude figures on public display.
In 2001 he said, “I do not see myself as an artist. I see myself as a painter who produces sociological inquiry reports by visual means.”
He was also renowned for his collection of books, which has been described by the British Library as “one of the most important in the world”.
The showcase, which will feature more than 30 paintings from the at times eccentric artist, will go on display to the public on February 8 following private, invitation-only viewings on February 7.
The Big Issue, sold by homeless people, is also involved and has produced a special supplement dedicated to Lenkiewicz and his work.
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