Robert Lenkiewicz is one of my favorite painters. He died on May 5, 2002, age 60, of complications arising from heart problems. Yesterday I was reminded again of Robert by a letter from his friend Henryk Ptasiewicz. I commend this letter to you. Henryk’s letter is in the past clickback Just for today.
Born in north London, the son of refugees who ran a Jewish hotel, Lenkiewicz went to St Martin’s College of Art and Design at the age of 16 and later the Royal Academy. However, he was largely self-taught.
Lenkiewicz worked in “projects.” He took subjects that interested him and explored the possibilities until they exhausted or bored him. These included concerns like Jealousy, Suicide, Self, Love and Death. They were often depicted in an allegorical style.
Inspired by Albert Schweitzer, Lenkiewicz opened his Hampstead studios to the dispossessed. Vagrants, criminals and alcoholics appear in his paintings. In 1964, after complaints from neighbours, he was urged by the police to move. He settled in Plymouth, Devon, where he soon took over warehouses to accommodate vagrants. One space became an exhibition project in 1973 — paintings of vagrants together with a collection of notes written by the sitters themselves. Lenkiewicz used this method of presenting information throughout his career.
In hundreds of portraits Lenkiewicz captured what he saw as the blandness and cynicism of his sitters. Paintings of teachers and bureaucrats were, like the artist’s life, loaded with irony. He viewed the educational system as the “mass spiritual slaughter of the young,” which prepared them for a life of exploitation.
Lenkiewicz was a gentle giant. A compassionate mind, his life could also be said to be a celebration of love and the adoration of femininity. In “The Painter with Women,” “Observations on the Theme of the Double,” and “The Falling in Love Experience,” he rallied against the idea of treating others, and things, as property. For Lenkiewicz property was “the straight road to fascism, brutishness and violence.”
PS: “The truth is that I am very, very keen on the opinion of the man in the street.” (Robert Lenkiewicz)
Esoterica: Quality work shines and glows beyond persona and popular opinion. “His free-thinking ways scandalized authority. He is survived by one son and one daughter from his three marriages, and thirteen other children.” (Mark Penwill, Obituary, The Guardian)
Brothers and sisters
by Pat Jaster
Could we not learn a lesson from Lenkiewicz and ‘the man in the street’? Are these not our neglected brothers and sisters, exploited and used for selfish gain? We throw them a few crumbs, then turn our backs thinking we have done our duty! Is this not where we should focus our attention and ask ourselves, “Why do we let this happen to our own family?” Are we not created equal, with a birthright to be, and have, equally? There are those of us that truly care about the future of our “family,” and not the almighty dollar! I’m happy to say, the good outweighs the bad in our world today. Then again, we are saddened by the suffering we will all endure in the not-so-distant future, due to our mass lack of caring! A great portion of humanity is unable to see the suffering of others. Then, when personal suffering comes we ask “why me.” Do we not need to change our habits, our thinking and how we act toward our fellow man?
The collective plight of humanity
by Alar Jurma, Montreal, Canada
Judging by the Lenkiewicz paintings and the couple of quotations you included, he was a man who had earned the title “artist” in the fullest sense of the word. No furniture maker was he, but a wise, compassionate and thoughtful human being who felt deeply about the collective plight we humans find ourselves in. He obviously found an honest path to his inner being and was able to express it beautifully. What his life seemed to be about reminds me of one of my favourite Bob Dylan songs: All Along the Watchtower.
There must be some way out of here, said the joker to the thief,
There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief.
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth,
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.
No reason to get excited, the thief, he kindly spoke,
There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.
But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate,
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.
by J Bruce Wilcox, Denver, CO, USA
Last Sunday I drove by a young man sitting on a street corner begging. His sign said he was HIV, diseased and dying. Since I lost a thousand friends to AIDS in the last century, my heart and gut were triggered and ripped out. A short time later I drove back in the other direction only to see him still sitting, now in a more complete state of depression and despair. Finally after spending the day running errands with my roommate, I said, “Charlie, I have to go.” I got in the car by myself and went downtown, to find this young man changing corners, but still there.
I engaged him in a discussion. I challenged him and made him angry. I said I appreciated his anger, but that he had a bad attitude, attitude being everything to me. I continued to talk with him, only to find out his depression surrounded a failed relationship, meaning it triggered his abandonment issues. But he didn’t know how to have his emotions and heal them, allowing himself to move beyond the loss. I did my best in a few minutes to try to get him to at least think about making a few small shifts in his position about things, then left and got him something to drink and eat.
Later that evening and again the next day, I “powered up” sending him as much Light and Love as possible, only hoping some would get through, because I don’t have a warehouse space of my own to take him to try to help him a bit more. This lack on my part is completely distressing to me, because it lays bare my lack of financial success related to being an artist. On several earlier occasions my universe has delivered people to me in similar situations, and as best as I could I’ve tried to help, knowing it was likely I was able to do very little. I have to try to help, because I am only one step off the street myself.
by Doran William Cannon, California, USA
Your piece about Lenkiewicz reminds me of one of my favorite painters, revered in memoriam in Toledo, Ohio, my hometown. Israel Abromofsky was a fugitive from the pogroms of Russia, got to Paris as a young man, hung out with Vlaminck and others of the Fauves, painted primarily deep Jewish subjects… somehow emigrated to Toledo, but without family lived in a rundown downtown room, traded paintings for dentistry and medical services. When he died, his paintings were sold for a pittance in a sale at the Jewish Community Center, and are now very hard to acquire. Luckily, I met a man who admired a painting in my collection and traded me for one of his three Abromofskys. I don’t know if Abromofsky is ‘listed’ or how to do any research on him. I do have a xeroxed copy of My Life, a forty-pager written by Abromofsky himself. He died sometime in the 1970s. The depth and dedication to art and his art is powerfully shown in his paintings, obviously when he turned his Modernist/Fauve palette to sorrowful Jews praying and the like, and more subtly, but just as true when he painted winter landscapes in Toledo. The truth of his art would reside in a tree or a sloping hill. I’ve ‘searched’ his name at eBay, to no avail, and I wonder if anyone would have a clue on how to find if he and his work are anywhere known outside of Toledo, Ohio.
by “Cheyenne” Portland, USA (Please do not print my e-mail address)
I found Gertjan Zwigglar’s letter “The Father fragment” both interesting and disturbing. I guess it’s because I object to the idea of “God” as male. I have no problem at all with, “It’s possible that… human beings have a piece of God in their minds… a chip off the old block, which is the source of our desire to create, to be one with God…” Actually, that fits right in with my belief that all people carry within them the spark of the Divine, which they can choose to either ignore or attune to and use to access the larger Divine, the Universe, the Great Spirit, God, Tao, or whatever word you choose. While I don’t find “Goddess” much less objectionable than “God” (although the imagery of a goddess rather than “God” — typically, the Judeo-Christian white-bearded patriarch — is much less entrenched), let’s say, for the sake of argument, that human beings carry within them a MOTHER fragment that makes them want to emulate the universe and give birth to their creations, to nourish and feed them, to raise them up, to help them grow to maturity. Isn’t that imagery more direct, more compelling, more obvious when looking at the natural world than attributing all creativity to the father? Maybe, in fact, it would be more accurate to describe this impulse as “the Creator (or Creatrix) fragment.”
Not an option
by Jill Charuk
Julia Cameron writes that artistic types have a tendency to blab it all away. We can’t seem to keep things to ourselves before they have had time to “gel” or simmer. With that in mind I have resisted writing until now. Like your friend that you wrote about recently, I also took time out to see if I could paint in a “style” or if I had a “voice” anyone wanted to listen to. I changed my phone message on June 30th and have given myself until September 15th to see. I gave up on my other career on August 2nd. It wasn’t that I was selling everything I did or that I had found the perfect style… it just seemed that not going for it was no longer an option.
Each time that I have become discouraged I am sent a sign, often it is news that a painting has sold. In The Artist’s Way Julia Cameron also writes that if you can take the first step, the rest will be taken care of. Sometimes the sign has been one of your letters at the exact right moment. Other times it has been an article in an art magazine or a visit to another artist’s opening.
Just for today dept.
by Joye Moon, Oshkosh, WI, USA
“Just for today” reminded me that every day is a gift — a new beginning. I begin each day by reminding myself to bound out of bed with the enthusiasm of a child. To see the world before me with fresh eyes, to not judge but to accept what life presents for that day. To watch the morning sunlight reflect on the lake and see the shadow patterns from the trees dance around the yard throughout the day. And at twilight, watch the quiet sunset with humble thanks.
by Helene McIntosh
“Just for today” I will respond to your letter to let you know how much I appreciate being a part of your group. I had already planned a special day for myself and almost didn’t read your letter till later this afternoon but then I thought you might have something special and you did! (again). Your message reinforced my determination to do something really unique…and if it doesn’t work, I know I won’t have to account to anyone and can start over again tomorrow. Thanks for sending me off on my journey ‘just for today.’
by Jim Pescott
‘Just for today’ as expressed in your letter seems an incantation, a mantra, or perhaps a lament. Something to hold on to so that I won’t slip away into the ‘normal’ way I proceed within the day. It feels so desperately unhappy and demeaning, which I accept is your intention as a reflection on the ‘just for today’ process. But nowhere is the word ‘love’ expressed, and I wonder about its role in all of this ‘just for today’ thing, as in love of others, and especially self-love. Just wondering.
(RG note) I’ve crammed love into quite a few letters. Art-love, self-love, work-love, process-love, nature-love and even love-love. Strangely — I went back to the little crumpled tract — and the word love is not mentioned in the original “Just for today.”
by Donna Brower Watts
What a terrific goal — JUST FOR TODAY!!! Too often, we look so far ahead that we miss the little things that make life worth living in the first place. That walk early in the morning with your favorite person. A visit to the kite festival. A day of fishing in a favorite lake, and a picnic lunch before heading back to the rat race. A few minutes to enjoy the beauty of a full moon. These are some of the mini-vacations I’ve given myself recently with my husband. I come back refreshed and ready to attack the job at hand.
What do you do?
by Lila Rohacek
Please forgive my ignorance, but what do you do? I enjoy your letters twice a week. Do you write them? I enjoy your quoted material and references; do you actually find them? I am so impressed by the volume of material you draw from and present, I honestly want to ask the serious question: What do you do?
I truly enjoy my job, working with mentally handicapped children. It blends beautifully with my own art studio at home, my joys and values. I take a regular portion of life to create paintings, drawings express pure excitement to me. I just at times seem to want to beg for more time. That’s why I ask. Are you a big business with workers in different departments researching for you? Are we reading and hearing from you, or a theme your company represents? I love the letter. Sometimes I have to laugh when one comes in and addresses just what I’ve been wondering about. I have shared your address with a few friends. Thank you for making Tuesdays and Thursdays more fun.
(RG note) I was just saying to the staff on the research floor (they’re talking about unionizing) “I wonder if subscribers realize just how much effort goes into these letters — with me having only short periods of lucidity these days — and the little time I have left over from working my buns off subsidizing all of you with my painting.” They just looked at me from their comfortable cubicles, smiled and chanted in unison: “Quit yer damn belly-aching and get back to yer easel.”
For those who haven’t seen it, we have a collection of amusing and sometimes not so complimentary notes that artists have sent to the Twice-Weekly Letter. It’s at http://painterskeys.com/remarks/
drawing by Iman Najafi, Tehran, Iran
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2003.
That includes the eleven artists (to date) who pointed out that Plymouth is in Devon, not Cornwall. I should have known because it was near there that I oversubscribed to Devonshire cream — Devon cows looking in the farmhouse window and all — nearly didn’t get my ’38 Austin Seven up the hill and out of that fine county.