Remembering Robert

PUBLISHED: 17:31 11 October 2010




THE years have passed by, but I can still remember the day my wife and I climbed the old stairs into the studio of controversial artist Robert Lenkiewicz.

writes Jo Jo in his new book.

THE years have passed by, but I can still remember the day my wife and I climbed the old stairs into the studio of controversial artist Robert Lenkiewicz.

We’d been enjoying his giant mural painted on the end of a building in Plymouth’s Barbican area when we had got chatting with another admirer, who went on to convince us to enter Lenkiewicz’s nearby studio. “He won’t mind,” we were reassured.

Climbing the stairs to his studio, we were somewhat apprehensive. We had read stories that he was a strange chap, who had once disappeared, pretending to be dead, and who was supposed to have hidden away the embalmed body of a tramp he had befriended.

The studio was crammed with paintings – some of beautiful women, others of tramps. Massive canvasses hung from the walls. Live-size works of art. His output was phenomenal. His subjects sometimes weird – there seemed to be a fixation with death.

The studio was deafly quiet and quite dimsy, too. We thought it was empty.

Out of the shadows, a beautiful woman appeared. “He doesn’t mind visitors, so long as they are quiet and do not disrupt his work.”

It was that moment that we determined to learn more about this unusual character.

It’s the same kind of interest which has resulted in JoJo creating a fascinating new book entitled Remembering Robert: R O Linkiewicz as told by his sitters.

JoJo, a photographer, theatre-maker, writer, broadcaster and teacher, had known Lenkiewicz for 25 years and had been determined that his legacy should live on after the man’s premature death.

The idea for the book seemed simple: find more than 100 people who had been sitters, take a picture of them today alongside their painting or drawing, in the environment in which the picture normally exists and them ask the sitter the same two questions: why was your picture made and what was your relationship to Lenkiewicz.

After three years of painstaking work, JoJo has compiled an amazing collection of images and personal accounts, which help to bring the great man back to life.

The book is packed with fascinating memories, such as those of punk rocker Rob: “We were coming back from our weekly shopping for glue and when we went into the studio, because I didn’t have any pockets, I was standing with the tins of glue under my belt, like in the painting.

“Robert said he wanted to paint me. From then on he painted me every week or two for two years. We had good conversations, deep. Sometimes unbelievable; we got on well. He represented me in court, so he possibly stopped me from going to prison.”

JoJo’s book has a limited edition of 1,000 copies. It can be bought through the publisher, The University of Plymouth Press, and through the website and other retailers listed on his website. It will also be available at Amazon

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