Reuben Lenkiewicz - Like Father, Like Son?
PUBLISHED: 17:39 24 October 2007 | UPDATED: 14:54 20 February 2013
Reuben Lenkiewicz had an exacting teacher - his father Robert - but a thorough grounding in the way society works has led to a freedom to find his own means of self expression.
Having a famous father can be something of a handicap to anyone engaged in a similar profession - people will always make comparisons. I'm no exception. When I met Reuben Lenkiewiecz I was fully expecting the mane of hair, the penetrating eyes, the almost clichéd paint-smattered smock and certainly the hypnotic presence that his late father Robert always commanded. Nothing could have been further from the truth, however. True, the family resemblance is there in the features and the intense politeness to strangers, but to look at him, Reuben Lenkiewicz is just the sort of ordinary guy you pass in the street every minute of the day. Except for one thing. Robert's artistic genius has obviously been passed down the generations, albeit in a different direction, because Reuben is a gifted photographer.
When we spoke, I was attending the opening of his latest exhibition of photographs at the Jardin de Bagatelle Café in Plymouth, not far from his father's old stamping grounds of the Barbican. It was an occasion attended by friends and members of the artistic community in the city and it was clear to me from conversations that reverence for Reuben's father and all that he meant to Plymouth was still immense, and certainly no less so from Reuben himself. "However, I don't feel as if I am under my father's shadow - I am very much my own man. It wasn't until later in life that I actually came to appreciate just how good an artist my father was," Reuben told me. "First and foremost I realised just what a good father he was."
Given Robert Lenkiewicz's much publicised idiosyncratic lifestyle that might sound surprising, but Reuben had a very close relationship with his father, whose Bohemian lifestyle was very much a product of the '60s liberation which, unlike many of his contemporaries, he never chose to give up. "Robert's life was more colourful, more free, and much less conventional than others and I thought him really special for that - he was just my dad. Apart from all that, I had a pretty conventional upbringing by my mother."
Reuben had art coming at him from all directions. "I'd watched Robert paint for many years and I suppose it's bound to have rubbed off - I did do some painting myself when I was younger - but my mother has read more books than anyone I know. I had books all around me when I was growing up. She was totally absorbed in the Brontés and she loves classical music - the Baroque period, Bach, Mozart - and I was immersed in all this wonderful creativity and appreciation for the arts all the time."
Reuben was born in Plymouth, moving away to Wales for a brief period in his teens, and went to school as any normal child would. However, from the age of 14 he had one very special teacher - his father. "He taught me philosophy and art history and all that sort of thing. He set me assignments to broaden my range of life experience. I went to see doctors and physiotherapists and worked with handicapped children, writing essays on what I had done. I did lots of different work like that over a two-year period and couldn't have had a better teacher in that respect because Robert was really intrigued and passionate about how society worked. It was a great period of my life with him."
Given that, at the time, Robert had one of the most important private collections of philosophical works in the country, there was no shortage of text books from which to work either, and it was obviously a very influential part of Reuben's development as an artist and as a person. "I don't personally make any division between the various branches of the arts," Reuben told me. "It's all about self-expression and communication of wider issues."
One of the wider issues which concerns Reuben, like his father, is the homeless situation. "I'm in the process of putting a project together which features portraits of Big Issue sellers - I think they all look amazing, they are all really photogenic and dramatic. I'm concentrating on Plymouth at the moment but hope to extend that to other areas in the future and put on an exhibition to draw attention to the problem. It's a subject I find as fascinating from a creative angle as it is demeaning to the individuals caught up in the homeless problem." Like father, like son? Well, Robert Lenkiewicz was no stranger to tough issues and controversy and one further project that Reuben has in mind touches on the toughest issue of all: the process of death itself. "On a creative - and compassionate - level, I find the process of passing from this life fascinating and what I would like to do at some stage is a series of portraits of patients in a hospice who are facing their ultimate journey. Whether I could get the support to do that I don't know, but it is something I would like to explore."
Controversy and strong moral issues aside, the bulk of Reuben's work is through his commercial photographic studio. The photographs on display at the exhibition show the strength of his artistic feel for his subjects which, in this case, were landscape photographs given an intensely personal touch, finding drama where none might be perceived to the uneducated eye.
"I do have a love of nature - and of the city. I love Dartmoor and think that we are blessed in the South-west with the landscape that we have down here. It's nature and people that inspire me, but not necessarily in a conventional way." Like father, like son? Judge for yourself. Reuben's work can be seen on his studio website at www.reubenlenkiewiczphotographystudio.com, available now for portraiture, events and commercial commissions as the marketing people might have it. Unlike his father, Reuben's feet are firmly planted in the means of earning a living.