“Watched my death announced on television. All hell broke loose.”
A rare self-portrait by Robert Lenkiewicz painted at the time the artist faked his own death will be coming up for auction in Plymouth this month (Lot 41).
The hoax was part of the artist’s research and study on the theme of Suicide and Death. Although he couldn’t ‘experience’ death he could experience what it was like to be thought dead. He therefore placed an announcement in the Times on the 3rd February 1981.
This subtly was lost on the local media, who reacted as victims of a cruel deception. Lenkiewicz had in part foreseen that his ‘death’ would play out in terms of his local celebrity status. In conversation with friends a few days before the obituary was posted the group agreed on a short manifesto: ‘Our intention as a group is to ‘steal’ from a minority section of the local public the impression that I am alive and to replace it with the illusion that I am dead’.
The artist’s intention was to remain secretly ensconced at the home of his friend and patron, Lord Eliot, and observe the public’s reaction. And, being Lenkiewicz, he would record the official fact of his ‘death’ on canvas: ‘Started the life-size portrait/ ‘Standing to attention’ with salmon pink background. Much thought on the sense of being ‘dead’. A private, subtle feeling of absenteeism, very rich image but perhaps too simple in design and colour’. Opportunities to resolve the canvas slipped away. As the painter’s diary notes: ‘Watched my death announced on television. All hell broke loose, and Lenkiewicz had to accelerate his resurrection to try to calm the situation.
Auctioneer Paul Keen – “We are delighted to present this rare painting by Robert Lenkiewicz which gives a real insight into his thought process at the time”.
This fascinating painting will be on display at Plymouth Auction Rooms along with a collection of other major Lenkiewicz works coming up for auction on 23rd June.