One of the defining traits of the paintings of Robert Lenkiewicz is that many of them fit clearly into “projects,” essentially groups of paintings on a particular theme. The themes of these projects often tackle subjects that were of particular interest to the painter, and they had very clear names, such as “Love & Romance,” “Vagrancy” and “Love & Mediocrity.”
Of course, we’ve written a lot about how Lenkiewicz was controversial, how he eschewed the establishment and didn’t stick to the norm, and so when we find paintings that don’t fit within the descriptions of his projects, we shouldn’t be surprised.
One such painting has recently joined the Smithson Collection, and we are extremely excited to have it.
On the back of “The Painter with Anna Navas” it tells us that it is part of project 18 – “The Painter With Women: Observations on the Theme of the Double”.
We already have some from this collection, including “The Painter with Janine Pecorini” and “The Painter with Bella”, but what stands out with our new addition is that Lenkiewicz doesn’t appear in the painting at all.
So why would he paint such a picture?
One obvious answer is that he might have painted over another picture. It may have begun as a painting of himself with Anna Navas, and then he painted over it for some reason, a reason we’re unlikely to ever find out.
However, the material used is jute, and this is particularly hard to paint on. Jute is very coarse, and in the case of this picture, holding a lamp to the back of it lets streams of light to come through.
Would he have been tempted to over-paint it? Maybe.
Lenkiewicz was a prolific painter, and he could often have the form of a subject on to canvas within a couple of hours. When over-painting however, the feel of the canvas is obviously very different and many painters, when faced with this problem, will more often start completely afresh. The old painting can then be used as a reference, helping them to get it right next time.
This is unlikely to have phased Lenkiewicz. In fact, given his general demeanour, there’s every chance he would like the challenge of over-painting.
In this case, it doesn’t look like he has.
When painting on top of existing works, there are often tell-tale signs such as intense colours showing through the paler ones on the canvas or textures not looking quite right. Some painters will often treat a canvas first by sanding down any impasto work and washing away the residue with a cloth.
Can we see Lenkiewicz doing this?
Personally, I can’t. To my eye, and knowing the work that he has done, this painting seems to be deliberate.
Let’s consider his interest in metaphysical studies. Lenkiewicz was more than a painter, he studied all aspects of the mind and the spiritual and so in many cases we have to look beyond what we see on the canvas and consider what he was thinking at the time.
If we look at the painting in more detail, we can ascertain that there was a close relationship with the subject. Robert was obviously very fond of Anna, and you can tell this from the subtle way the face is formed. But there’s also a certain sadness in the portrait.
We don’t actually know about their relationship, in fact there may have been none at all. This could, in fact, be the clue.
Other paintings in Project 18 often show Lenkiewicz in an embrace or other very close pose with the subject. Their closeness is repeatedly very overt and clear to see.
In this painting, the lack of the painter on the canvas doesn’t mean he isn’t there. Given his interests, he could be saying that the physical form of Anna is apparent, and he is there in spirit. The face may be giving this away, Anna could be sad because he’s not there.
Or maybe the sadness is a reflection of his emotion.
Of course, he may have simply decided to paint it as a push against his own self-imposed rules. Yes, it doesn’t really fit within his Project 18, but there are other examples of this throughout his vast collection.
We simply don’t know, and this is the beauty of art in general, and the enigma around Lenkiewicz in particular.
With any such fine art painting, it’s up to the viewer to form the story in their mind based on their world view and what they know of the painter. We can all see something different in art, and this is what helps keep interest in Lenkiewicz’s work so intense.
Even though some of his work has an obvious message, it’s refreshing to find those that let us read into them more, and create conversations with other collectors.