Robert Lenkiewicz

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Robert Oscar Lenkiewicz (31 December 1941–August 5, 2002) was one of the South West England's most celebrated artists of modern times. Perennially unfashionable in high art circles, his work was nevertheless popular with the public.[1][2] He painted on a large scale, usually in themed Projects investigating hidden communities (Vagrancy 1973, Mental Handicap 1976) or difficult social issues (Suicide 1980, Death 1982).


Early life

Robert Lenkiewicz was born in London in 1941, the son of refugees who ran a Jewish hotel in Fordwych Road, whose elderly residents included a number of Holocaust survivors. He was inspired to paint after seeing Charles Laughton in Alexander Korda's biographical film Rembrandt. At 16, Lenkiewicz was accepted at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and later attended the Royal Academy. However, he was virtually impervious to contemporary art fashions, being more interested in his favourite paintings in the National Gallery.[2]

Inspired by the example of Albert Schweitzer, Lenkiewicz threw open the doors of his studios to anyone in need of a roof – down and outs, addicts, criminals and the mentally ill congregated there. These individuals were the subjects of his paintings as a young man. However, such colourful characters were not welcomed by his neighbours and he was obliged to leave London in 1964.[1]

Move to Plymouth

He spent a year living in a remote cottage near Lanreath in Cornwall, supporting his young family by teaching, before being offered studio space on the Barbican in Plymouth by local artist John Nash. The artist's home and studios once more became a magnet for vagrants and street alcoholics, who then sat for paintings. Their numbers swelled and Lenkiewicz was forced to commandeer derelict warehouses in the city to house the 'dossers'. One of these warehouses also served as a studio and in 1973 became the exhibition space for the Vagrancy Project.

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