The first major London exhibition of works by Robert Lenkiewicz (1941-2002) at Ben Uri Gallery, The London Jewish Museum of Art, featuring a selection from the artist's finest self-portrature throughout his career.
For an artist first inspired to paint in boyhood after seeing Charles Laughton portray Rembrandt in Alexander Korda's classic film, it was perhaps inevitable that Robert Lenkiewicz would turn frequently to the subject of self-portraiture.
The self-portraits collected in this show span the artist's whole career. From his first paintings as an earnest fifteen-year-old boy, working in Room No. 3 of the Hotel Shemtov, the Jewish hotel run by his parents in Cricklewood in the post-war years, to the haunting last self-portrait in hospital shortly before his death in Plymouth aged sixty, these images make for an encyclopaedia of the artist's changing styles and philosophical interests down the years.
Lenkiewicz famously chose the outsider as the subject for his art: the vagrants and street alcoholics who dossed at his studios, families with mentally handicapped children, the elderly, the dying - human beings isolated from one another by their circumstances and from themselves by their preoccupations. "You're born alone and you die alone," he said and the problem was to deal with the isolation of simply being alive. Lenkiewicz found one solution - a richly creative life conducted with remarkable panache - and left behind a legacy which will appeal to anyone with an interest in the conundrum of existence.
'Skill is a faculty that is half-asleep,' said Lenkiewicz, yet his self-portraits transcend mere technique and confront the spectator with the fully alert and unflinching gaze of an artist profoundly interested in 'the business of living'.