Robert Lenkiewicz completed at least twenty large-scale projects throughout his career. These projects were a combination of an exhibition of paintings - research notes - and sometimes complete books about the subject in question. His idea to create such projects originated when a large collection of paintings was accumulating in his small Barbican studio, and his multi-layered ideas about the people he was painting suddenly crystallised into the notion of having a huge exhibition.
Lenkiewicz identified his projects as ‘sociological enquiry reports’ and each of these, on (amongst other subjects) death, vagrancy, sexual behaviour, and education, formed an interlocking pattern of enquiry upon the themes of desire and belief that Lenkiewicz described as having a physiological basis.
His ‘Vagrancy’ exhibition & project, held in Plymouth in 1973, attracted no critical attention but did have a significant impact in Plymouth. It also made him realize that he had found a way of creating a lot of interest and provoking thought, albeit only locally. He had discovered that he could run a large attractive exhibition that ordinary people would visit and he saw that commentators & critics from the ‘high art world’ would not. He realized he should control the whole presentation process himself, show the work in his own premises and go his own way.
Lenkiewicz would frequently say that he had “no interest in issues of high art” and he would completely decry any altruistic impulses. His motives in setting up this first major exhibition were complex. He certainly wanted to draw attention to these people (who he called Vagrants) and to issues that confronted them … but he would not have been unaware of the possibilities for attracting attention to the work itself, and to the possibility of selling it. He described the Vagrancy Exhibition as a sociological survey rather than an exhibition of paintings and wanted the works to be seen ‘en masse’ rather than as individual pieces. He dismissed the idea of ‘art’, preferring to cloak himself in the role of researcher.
Thus, the idea of making work for specific projects took shape; the projects became very much about “presenting information” and also, crucially, he saw the exhibition as an entity i.e. the individual pieces were subordinate to the whole. This began to impact on the way he painted and on the things he painted and his work became increasingly driven by the ideas contained within the research areas. Similarly “the projects”, as he was now calling them, began to impact on his book collecting. This recursive relationship took root and people who knew him and discussed his ideas with him will have heard him expounding on this many times. This way of being, as painter/researcher, was to shape the rest of his life.
There were 21 projects in all in the ‘Relationship Series,’ with the twentieth, that upon Addictive Behaviour, left unfinished at the time of Lenkiewicz’s death. Underpinning each of the projects was a period of solid, academic research based upon books that Lenkiewicz acquired for his huge library (The library that Robert had built-up over the years was the intellectual companion of the paintings).
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