Saturday, June 4, 2011

Diogenes

"To paint oneself is to paint a portrait of someone who is going to die. And the same applies if one paints anybody else."~Robert Lenkiewicz

I've just learned about an artist who died nearly 9 years ago. British painter Robert Lenkiewicz (1941-2002) made postmortem headlines when an embalmed body was found in his studio. It was that of a homeless man who Lenkiewicz had discovered, dubbed "Diogenes," and often used as a model (1st image is a 1977 oil painting "Diogenes at Night in Studio Window" and 2nd image is an undated pencil sketch). The artist had embalmed and concealed the corpse of the 72-year-old man, whose real name was Edwin MacKenzie, 18 years earlier. Lenkiewicz had baited and taunted the authorities at the time, to the point that they gave up looking for the hidden body of the tramp. "I mean no harm and offense but I am seriously committed to the personal arrangement between myself and old Diogenes....Diogenes would have smiled at how much more concern there has been for his death than he received alive," he said. The coroner concluded when the body finally surfaced that Diogenes had died a natural death and was "well-preserved," but was reluctant to release the remains to the Lenkiewicz Foundation in the absence of documentation that established the lawful right to possession. A few months after Lenkiewicz's death, the coroner - satisfied that Diogenes' body had been obtained lawfully - released it to Lenkiewicz’s estate, raising the possibility that it could one day be put on display in a retrospective exhibition of the artist’s work. And so it has come to pass (sorry I didn't hear about this sooner): the most comprehensive exhibition of Robert Lenkiewicz's paintings, "Still Lives," was held at the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol from April 17th to May 31st, 2011. The show (brief review here, video walkthrough here) included Diogenes.

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