It is almost unheard of today, that the death of an artist could elicit such an emotional public response as that of Robert Oscar Lenkiewicz. His paintings communicated directly with ordinary people, who recognised that here was not only an artist of considerable talent but someone who had the power to make them contemplate their own lives and the world they live in.
Robert Lenkiewicz was a natural outsider and radical, consciously at odds with contemporary thinking on ethical and aesthetic issues. Nevertheless, he found a broad constituency amongst ordinary people, who were attracted by his charismatic personality, his generosity and his abundant gifts as an artist and educator. Once asked how he would like to be remembered, as a sociological enquirer or as a skilful painter who had something to say about the human condition, Robert Lenkiewicz replied characteristically: "When one has a choice between two things, always take both."
Just like many things in his life, Lenkiewicz adopted a unique position towards his own paintings. At an early age he made a conscious decision to subjugate his skill to a greater service: to become a "presenter of information" or a "sociological enquirer", as he usually termed it. By this he meant to reveal the plain fact of a person or thing. For Robert Lenkiewicz, the act of painting was a profoundly moving experience. "To paint oneself is to paint a portrait of someone who is going to die," Robert Lenkiewicz would often remark when asked about his many self-portraits. "And the same applies if one paints anybody else." His main aim was to capture the transient and haunting qualities of his subject. He recognised the limitations of art and considered it second best to the mystery of his subject's sheer existence.
Robert Lenkiewicz will be remembered as a genuine outsider and radical, consciously at odds with current thinking on ethical and artistic issues. He cared less about the opinion of the art critic than that of the man-in-the-street. His art is generous in its ability to communicate with ordinary people, who are little interested in the more esoteric world of contemporary art; it is democratic and humane but never sentimental. Above all, his paintings reveal people for what they are without moral judgement. If the task of the artist is to show what it was to be alive in a certain time and in a certain place, then the qualities of Robert Lenkiewicz's work will increasingly become clear to future generations.
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