Lenkiewicz on death

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    [Administrator’s note: this post was originally posted as a reply to this thread]

    My original post was actually intended to kick start some debate about Robert's ideas and philosophy about death and dying; evidently my method was too obscure or offbeat for ready comprehension.

    This forum is meant to be about Robert's life, work and ideas, though for the last couple of months it seems to be more about the current auctions of Robert's paintings and the prices they fetch.

    Instead, can we perhaps move on to discussions about Robert's art and the ideas and philosophy behind them? Allarewelcome's question about what happened to Robert's body raises some interesting questions about Robert's views on death and contemporary society's unease about mortality.

    Robert had a plan some years back, which he repeatedly voiced, about turning the house at Lower Compton into an extension of the library/gallery on the Barbican, which would become a kind of reliquary dedicated to the theme of death, which members of the public could visit and reflect on the subject of death through time as experienced by different cultures, and upon their own mortality.

    He started having the mausoleum mentioned by Allarewelcome built, and for a while had the idea that he would be buried in this vault, which would be a public space along with the other exhibits in the house.

    The mummy of Diogenes he had prepared as a memento mori, a thought-provoking artefact, which he had an idea of eventually displaying within the section of his library dedicated to death and allied subjects. He frequently claimed that it was just that, an artefact; it had nothing to do with Diogenes.

    So, can we have some discussion please instead of boring slanging matches? What are people's views on Robert's attitudes and philosophies on mortality? Was he justified in having Diogenes embalmed in the face of opposition from the health authorities? Was he disrespectful to Diogenes' memory in doing what he did? What does Robert's art, especially from his death project, have to say to contemporary society about its views on the disposal of the dead, of notions of respect and ideas of seemliness surrounding the body?

    Opinions please!



    As far as Roberts approach to the subject of death and more so the mourning process , i dont think his theories are far wrong, the part that offended some people was the coldness of his clinical approach to the subject. Though i believe you have to take this tact to be objective.
    I work in the criminal justice system and see similarities /overlaps between mourning a death and the relationship break up daily.
    A single relationship builds characteristics into a personality , remove that relationship or file and the old brain box/ computer starts to perform illegal actions(where have i seen that flag b4)= out of character . I believe Roberts theories on addictive behaviour overlapping with death and relationships to be spot on.
    As far as the Diogenies corpse is concerned, Robert stated that they had came to agreement in life where the corpse be be transfered as property to Robert after Diogenies dies ,for payment of some kind .To me this is Diogenies stating that he had no use for his body after life and Robert could use it to amuse himself . The reason some people are offended by this, i think, they see it as sort of a morbid prostitution.
    Robert talked of his plans for his own death freely .has stated by Joe above and due to his clinical approach to the subject of death showed very little emotion toward the subject , 😉 😉 apart from objectivity. However he did leave a young family and i think we have to be guarded the way we discuss this , not to offend his kids.
    Thankyou for moving the thread on insuch a way Joe. 😉



    Slightly changing direction on this thread, I think it might be interesting to link this to the recent discussion (under general art issues “Mark Spain”) on Robert’s painting and painting in general. Yes, it’s the old Form and Content debate!

    Robert's views on death were of course inextricably linked to his views on life. It is important, in terms of his painting, to realise that he invariably worked from life (as opposed to photos or studies). As Jack Sparrow has previously pointed out, his main concern was the translating of a three dimensional subject into two dimensions on canvas.

    As he remarked in "R.O.Lenkiewicz":

    "Nothing haunts the mind more than the plain fact of a thing...I was very aware of the passing of things, of decay."

    And again later on the theme of "Still-Lifes":

    "I used to collect chairs in my Hampstead studio but I wouldn't allow anyone to sit on them. I had a whole wall of about 25 chairs; all sorts that I found scrapped. Sometimes when I was alone there, I would put an orange on one of the chairs and sit across the room on another chair and look at it. Then I'd get up and move the orange somewhere else, and if you did this intensively enough, it could bring tears to your eyes...Nothing haunts the mind more than the plain fact of a thing as I said last time; I don't think anything is more moving than its sheer existence...or the absence of it."

    And further:

    "I often notice in my students that they pay more attention to the innocuous daub on their canvas than to the event they're looking at. It's so insulting and brutish, because there is the event, its thereness and its existence is so incomprehensibly extraordinary."

    The magic that Paul S. spoke about is surely caused by being "moved" by a work of art. There is a good case for arguing that in painting unless we can sense that the artist was somehow moved by that immediate three dimensional experience (whether an objective visual experince as in figurative painting or a subjective inner experience as in abstract painting) while he was painting, then the work will always remain basically hollow.

    Much more could be said on this but does anyone want to pick it up? It is fundamental to an understanding of Lenkiewicz's work and ideas.


    simon harris

    Apparently Robert became bored with “the artifact” asked why
    he replied "because it cannot talk"
    I think Robert had a great sense of ritual and ridicule
    Death was the big one on his list - it has no answer so prhapps lent itself to expression - to sense the looming deadline in everyone - a common thread most people usually echo
    Anyhow i'm on the otherside of the world - great site and this is the subject that brings robert into my mind
    And yes discussions about his material remains is completely missing the point of his work
    Simon H



    Will it ever get to the stage that all of Roberts work will be looked
    at properly, not just the painting, but the research he did on all
    the projects? What he wrote and what he got other people to write
    was just as important as the paintings. Has anyone ever thought
    to get academics to look at that side of his work. Maybe a way
    of saving the whole thing would be to go for the idea that his
    theories and reseach was too important to be split up before
    anyone has looked at it properly.



    I fear the time to have kept Robert’s collection together – books, paintings and manuscripts, passed the moment he died, and a deputation of some academics will have no effect this far down the line.

    You are right though in supposing that for Robert Lenkiewicz to be researched, in all his facets, researchers will have to have access not only to his paintings but also to his many notebooks and diaries, and also to some sense of what the library consisted of.

    We must hope that his manuscript books, including his Diary Notes, Relationship notebooks, 'Notes,' and the like (also those books compiled by his 'companions in arms') will not be sold, but will, in the end, reside with the Foundation. If they prove to be unable to house these, the archive should be passed to some other public institution, such as the West Devon Record Office, in Cattedown, for safe keeping and access.

    If the Foundation receives them, it should be willing to allow bona fide researchers to have access to the notebooks, without hinderance. If the manuscripts did end up being sold and passed into private hands this could prove disastrous for future researchers.

    Another point that bothers me is that Robert's library is being dispersed without a full catalogue of its contents being compiled. This job was started in Robert's lifetime but not completed, and since his death books have already gone without being recorded. In last year's Sotheby's sale of books I noticed several books in lots were being sold without being described. More of this is likely to happen later this year. Without a proper catalogue, the books Robert owned and read will become something of a mystery, and possible influences on his work and thinking will be lost. This is something future academics will one day rue.



    Yes maybe a lot or too much has gone so far. Not everything has gone yet. Cant someone talk to the right people so that before the rest has to go his things get looked at properly. Its stupid and a waste of all his hard
    work. Robert was no tin pot painter. If everything goes now thats all people will see him as. Have the foundation gone to univercities, doctors
    academics, goverment and talked to them about what is being lost. Surely if they
    knew someone would help try and save the whole thing. or what is left.



    One of the Foundation Trustees, Mike Beveridge, is Vice-cHancellor of Plymouth University, so if anyone on the Foundation should have any sense of what is being lost to academia by not being recorded, he should. That said, I don’t know that besides taking some very general view-type photos and video footage anyone from the Foundation has made any effort at recording what’s there before it goes. Very few other people have been allowed into the Studio over the past two years.



    Maybe they need to go higher than just plymouth. Some of the debts are inheritance tax and other tax issues dont you think the foundation could
    do a deal with the tax office so the libaray and manuscripts could stay together for the nation and the academic world. This work is probably
    the first of this kind Robert was his own guinnepig for most of his life. He also used other people as guinnepigs who else in the modern world has done this type of experiment?


    simon harris

    I guess Roberts lifestyle was one of investigation – his journey
    Sure we all are connected by his "being"
    but at the same time the objects he has left are the debris of his journey
    We place value on this - and so does the Tax man - that value is not the influence of his work - just its here and now value
    In terms of the region this value receads every time it is wittled away
    The market only benefits from this
    Get the sale out the way - de-cenralise his work and make really big bucks !!!
    Its how the "market place" works
    I see it as vultures destroying a corpse (no offence intended)
    If only his work was worthless - then and only then would it remain intact



    I’ve tried as you’ve said perhaps the Brian Sewell cloanes out there are scared of the subject? I don’t Know. 😈



    Has anyone been watching the BBC program Restoration? £4m for an old Scottish wool mill, £6m for a WWII radar station, £10m or a memorial hall. Can the foundation not lodge an application for the Barbican and associated buildings for the people of Plymouth (and the rest of the world)? 🙄

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