As we know, Lenkiewicz was certainly a non-conformist, an eccentric even, and he was often snubbed by the press and most of the art-world. But this didn’t seem to dampen his popularity with the public, in fact, it probably fuelled it.
In 1994, his exhibition in Birmingham which included 105 works from Project 18 – The Painter With Women: Observations on the Theme of the Double, and 77 other works spanning his career, was visited by over 30,000 people.
But did the art press notice?
It seems his lifestyle was more newsworthy, with the only coverage of the exhibition being mistaken descriptions of it as a catalogue of his relationships with his models. Not one national art magazine covered the exhibition.
However, this didn’t seem to matter. The ICC exhibition was a huge public and commercial success, and it allowed Lenkiewicz to carry his major passion – book collecting – to new heights.
Lenkiewicz’s projects all had themes, and they were meticulously researched. His Project 18 was no different, and it explored the physiological nature of human behaviour through many sittings with models and friends.
The Temptation of St Antony was the centrepiece of the exhibition, stretching eleven metres wide by over three metres tall. The painting itself seems to be a conglomeration of the scenes he would have witnessed on any night looking out of the window of his studio.
When brought together in one painting, it shows the tumultuous nature of humans and serves as an insight into Lenkiewicz’s mind. His ability to bring out the life of his subjects on to canvas, painting in their history, their experience and their feelings at the time means you’re never in any doubt that this man loved his art.
But his art was a means to an end.
Lenkiewicz’s love of books is a facet of his life that many in the art world glossed over, others deride and yet to many serves to underpin why he is such a fascinating character.
His antiquarian library on metaphysics, witchcraft and the occult, prime examples of the “fanatical belief systems” which so fascinated him, became one of the finest in private hands in Europe.
Built up over forty years, the library grew to over 25,000 volumes, the remains of which are now housed in St Saviour’s, a de-consecrated nineteenth century church. Sitting on top Lambhay Hill, it overlooks Plymouth’s historic Barbican.
When Lenkiewicz died in 2002, the library fell into disuse, but the Lenkiewicz Foundation was created to preserve it. Many of his books had to be sold off to pay debts after his death, but those that remain are fascinating, their content showing itself in his paintings as he struggled to comprehend the human condition.
And this is why his paintings are so sought after now. He’s not simply painting himself or his models, his intellectualism, research into the mind and beyond, and his incredible attention to detail means every work needs time to digest, comprehend and then understand.