Robert Lenkiewicz: Self-Portraits formed the catalogue to the exhibition Robert Lenkiewicz: Self-Portraits 1956-2002 at the Ben Uri Gallery, The London Jewish Museum of Art in 2008.
The 38 self-portraits collected in this book span the artist’s whole career. From his first paintings as an earnest fifteen-year-old boy, working in Room No. 3 of the Hotel Shemtov, the Jewish hotel run by his parents in Cricklewood in the post-war years, to the haunting last self-portrait in hospital shortly before his death in Plymouth aged sixty, these images make for an encyclopaedia of the artist’s changing styles and philosophical interests down the years.
Lenkiewicz famously chose the outsider as the subject for his art: the
vagrants and street alcoholics who dossed at his studios, families with
mentally handicapped children, the elderly, the dying — human beings
isolated from one another by their circumstances and from themselves by
their preoccupations. ‘You’re born alone and you die alone,’ he said and the
problem was to deal with the isolation of simply being alive. Lenkiewicz
found one solution – a richly creative life conducted with panache – and left
behind a legacy which will appeal to anyone with an interest in the
conundrum of existence.
‘Skill is a faculty that is half-asleep,’ said Lenkiewicz, yet his self-portraits transcend mere technique and confront the spectator with the fully alert and unflinching gaze of an artist profoundly interested in ‘the business of living’.