Family Matters: A Private Collection

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    Annie HillSmith

    Participant image. I wasn't expecting to see Kynance Lazarus-like back from the ashes.



    The image miraculously now seems to have been changed!Has anyone seen the show - what do you think?



    Good to see the site back online after a brief interruption. Just to say



    The exhibition curator, Annie Hill-Smith, states in her catalogue introduction, “The theme of this exhibition is one of family. It is a social enquiry of sorts but also a celebration of the images Lenkiewicz made of his family.” She then asks, “Does it provoke thought for you?” Well, yes, it does, but probably not entirely of the kind intended.

    First of all, though, let me say that my views here are entirely my personal ones and do not reflect TLF’s, which has asked its art history intern to write an independent review on its behalf. That should be posted on TLF’s website towards the end of the show.

    Certainly there is merit in a smaller, intimate and low-key show, concentrating on the artist’s personal life in contrast to his grander, more public ‘project’ paintings on sociological and philosophical themes. Some of the best paintings and drawings here are charming and spontaneous works, often not previously exhibited: a sensitive portrait of his daughter Kate with rich, warm skin tones; a painting of the young Laila, demonstrating Lenkiewicz’s gift for subtle colour; a rare, early study of the artist’s mother, broadly painted; a handful of drawings in pen and charcoal of the curator herself holding her children.

    The latter however started me thinking about the exhibition’s title. Which is the ‘family’ being referred to and which ‘matters’? Of approximately forty works about three quarters of them are of the curator, her immediate family or apparently belong to them. Many of the other eleven children, let alone the wider family, identified in the catalogue’s family tree, are absent. There were surely other paintings which could easily have been sourced to broaden its scope? There are numerous lovely paintings and drawings of Lenkiewicz’s first wife, ‘Mouse’, which come to mind, as well as later paintings, such as the artist with his sons Wolfe and Reuben.

    But it’s unclear if the theme is the artist’s own family or, as the introduction hints, the family as a sociological unit. It correctly states that, although Lenkiewicz never created a project on the theme of family, he did consider it. Indeed he did, and there are a few existing paintings inscribed as such. Those aside, there are of course numerous paintings of family groups – I’m thinking for example of ‘The Griep Family’, paintings from the Education Project or even numerous commissioned family portraits. One curious selection here is a self-portrait from 1977, which apparently has no connection to the theme. Was the Goyaesque ‘Father eats the son’ too challenging!?

    What would Lenkiewicz, the ‘sociological enquirer’, have made of a project on this theme? One ‘aesthetic note’ in the exhibition gives us a strong clue. Titled ‘Whose would it have been?’ it depicts a mother cradling a baby and is inscribed: ‘Whose is it? Whose isn’t it? Whose ought it to be? Whose would it have been if you had not been in that restaurant at 7.15?’

    This sums up Lenkiewicz’s frequently-expressed public attitude towards the concept of ‘family’: children as possession and the random nature of the ‘love relationships’, which lead to the heart of the artist’s theory of ‘aesthetic fascism’. I can’t help but think of R.D.Lang’s ‘Sanity, Madness and The Family’, published in 1964, and surely a key influence. Yet none of this is touched upon here, and the exhibition is, in fact, something of an idea-free zone. Even basic biographical information on Lenkiewicz’s life and work is thin on the ground (certainly without buying a catalogue), as there appears to be an underlying assumption that everyone already knows about it. I did wonder what someone encountering his work for the first time would make of it all.

    Maybe the most interesting aspect is buried here more deeply. As a touching letter from the artist (in the guise of Father Christmas) to one of his children here illustrates, there is something of a paradox between Lenkiewicz’s ideas on the family and his actions. As a father, Lenkiewicz generally seemed of a kind and generous nature, and despite his tragic view of life, encouraged his children to see it as a precious gift to be made the most of. What more could any parent do?

    The exhibition runs till March 23rd – make sure you see it and discover if it provokes any thoughts for you.


    Annie HillSmith

    Well … Family Matters is all wrapped and down now .. but people still
    make comments to me and here is on that arrived a couple of days back

    “I did call into Hannahs. I thought it was a worthwhile and generous effort
    on your part. I liked the early stuff of you –

    Never did like the abortion scene thing though.

    I did (briefly) try and register with the new site and join the discussion
    over TLF’s future but did not have success and could not be bothered to
    persist. I wanted to ask a question that someone asked me viz “Does the TLF
    actually have any point anymore?” If it exists to promote RL then it seems
    to have failed – 20 years ago a high proportion of people in Plymouth knew
    the name Lenkiewicz and were aware of him, his painting and his ‘adventures’
    That proportion seems to have fallen away dramatically – evidence? I was
    talking to a lecturer at Plymouth art college and he said none of his
    students had ever heard of him – so if TLF can’t succeed in their own town
    and with the art community what is the point of them? Of course if Leipzig
    is ringing with his name that’s something – if!.”

    Well .. actually as you see this is not really a review of the exhibition
    more an answer to the question posed by Francis a couple of months back.
    Anyway … I post it. The author obviously is not as computer savy as some!

    Francis said that the art intern at TLF had visited Family Matters & would
    post a review. Did she change her mind?



    Unfortunately the intern ran out of time as she was finishing her dissertation (which we will post on our website shortly) and found the venue a tricky place to get to without a car).
    Re the other point about TLF’s purpose, I posted what TLF had achieved over the past five years in another thread. I invite Annie to do the same for the previous 15 years she was involved and they can be compared as to which has done more to promote Robert’s work.
    The local Colleges, frankly, were never much interested in Robert in his lifetime, I’m not sure why that might change now. On the other hand, local exhibitions at Plymouth Museum, the Royal William Yard (more weekly visitors than the University/PCAD’s much touted British Art 7 there) and Torre Abbey in the last few years have all attracted large and enthusiastic audiences, as the comments books, which we have posted, testify. Perhaps the Hannahs comment book could be posted to compare. too? KARST in Stonehouse, much frequented by art college students, even included a painting in a show last autumn, so I’m not sure where these students have been.
    One important reason TLF has taken Robert’s work further afield is to see whether his work would be met with the same response from a national and international audience – or whether it was a local phenomenon. It was very clear that his work speaks to people wherever it is shown. If TLF’s ambition was to limit Robert’s work to a parochial audience, then I think it would certainly have little point.
    And, on the subject of students, TLF is receiving numerous enquiries from those seeking to study Robert’s work as part of their academic courses, so some students must be paying attention – though admittedly, not many are local.

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