The art of Robert Lenkiewicz


Dear Artist,

Robert Lenkiewicz is one of my favourite painters. He died in 2002, age 60, of complications arising from heart problems. 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 responses to the past letter, Just for today.


“The Painter with Karen” 1990
oil painting by
Robert Lenkiewicz (1941-2002)

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.


“Self-portrait blindfolded in
private studio” 2000
oil painting by
Robert Lenkiewicz

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.”


“Les Ryder with Grey Blanket” 1996
oil painting by
Robert Lenkiewicz

Best regards,


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)

Robert Lenkiewicz: Paintings and Projects

This letter was originally published as “The art of Robert Lenkiewicz” on August 22, 2003.


The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are now available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“The function of the artist in a disturbed society is to give awareness of the universe, to ask the right questions, and to elevate the mind.” (Marina Abramovic)



  1. An extraordinary talent and a great man in his own way.
    But consider this: ‘ . . .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.’ This tells you all you need to know about the state of art tutoring in those places.
    I went to art school (in unfashionable Bolton) at about the same time but we had drawing every day. Since then of course, drawing from life has virtually disappeared from English art schools.
    Robert did some amazing murals, the best known of which is the Barbican Mural – worth a moment of your time to look at

    • Thank you for the link to the mural, just WOW! And, not entirely an aside, as an educator who spent my life in education (teacher, administrator, researcher, teacher of teachers), although I don’t fully agree that “the educational system is a MASS (emphasis mine) spiritual slaughter of the young,” when it removes or de emphasizes music and art from the curriculum it definitely is a mass slaughter of the spiritual…

  2. a fabulous offering, of an artist I did not know about. a true master of idea, composition and painting skills. His canvasses as well as his murals have me in awe as I continue to discover more details. thank you.

  3. I did an oil painting today.
    It was of the same subject I have been painting for several weeks. This article by the late artist Robert Genn, about the late artist Robert Lenkiewicz, agrees with my thoughts to myself this morning before I ever read this, that painting a subject until exhausted or bored is what I do too. I had an incredible urge as soon as I opened my eyes this morning to paint once again the same subject as before, and work it to death until I just can’t stand it anymore. I can’t leave it to soon, I will be anxious to go back with a desire to pin it down and stretch it to its limits once again. It is hard to leave a subject when I am so involved that it keeps me flying unbelievably high that I can barely see anything around me for hours and I am sometimes shocked when will I glimpse that flash of reality that finally slaps me back hard to the ground. Shaking myself off I mumble to myself, “Why am I still doing this and what is this all for?” Then I remember who I am and that this is my very own ethereal and ever changing dream that I am cursing!
    Plein Air… Exhausted maybe, but never bored!

  4. Hallelujah!!!! Finally some recognition of a true talent I can agree with! This artist arrested my husband and I back in the early eighties with his Plymouth mural, which we took extensive pictures of and have them on display still. His satirical, cynical, sensitive expression is “spot on” as the brits like to say. He painted a very human picture….not pretty, petty posers or royal cows, but a real amalgam of real people in the surreal surroundings that inhabited his mind. His art is often difficult….no landscapes in blue here….but it always challenges the viewer and the view point. Isn’t that what art is meant to do?

  5. I have to completely disagree about Robert awful narcissistic painter! who often included himself ogling lasciviously at his models. He frequently included himself as the central image beside the model,often in front of them ..these paintings were really dire in my view and questionable. He often made is paintings of female models capture and amplify that unsavoury gaze of his.
    Sorry to disagree with the general ‘take’ on his work. I know it is all a matter of taste and I would be interested to hear what others think. Am I alone in this view?
    Ann Froshaug

    • No. The work I have seen seems extremely self-indulgent. And often in very poor taste. It’s fine, of course, as taste is a subjective thing, but I am not keen on porn masquerading as art but the core issue for me is that the only subject who is routinely accorded dignity is the artist himself. Everyone else is ‘object’. And objectified.

  6. It’s well know that artist’s often create their own moral code. But seriously- this guy needed a truck load of condoms. 3 marriages? That makes him a failure at that oft-held-high assumption of heterosexual monogamous relationship based in fidelity. 2 children from his 3 marriages- plus 13 other children? Apparently he screwed everyone. Born on December 31st- he was a Capricorn. A Goat. And apparently- a narcissistic goat at that. But since the same prudes who judge gay men like me as promiscuous because we refuse to align with their moral code- whatever. I just hate the hetero hypocrisy. However- his openness to the disenfranchised as subject/object matter? As a transit rider I regularly encounter folks living on the street- and here or there have had one accost me in some way or another. I’ve even housed someone occasionally. I’ve thought about taking pictures of some of them from time to time- but since I’m only one step away from that plight myself- I refrain…

  7. Henryk, my new friend, just introduced me to his work. I was blown away by the trove of great art, the scale of the oeuvre and by the mans life details. Thanks for helping spread the word. TT

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