Wolfe von Lenkiewicz (b. 1966) is a British artist who utilises well known imagery from art history to create new hybrids that have an immediate sense of the familiar. This process of re-sequencing creates ambiguous and multi-layered creations of displaced time, giving new life to both context and environment. The enchanting Riflemaker hosts this exhibition of paintings, drawings and film, the unique architectural space of the gallery adding considerable charm to the presentation, the concept of which is that the artist is making paintings by the great Masters which may have once existed but were unfinished or lost.
Von Lenkiewicz comes from a long line of established painters, notably his father Robert Lenkiewicz and great-grandfather Baron von Schlossberg who acted as court painter to King Ludwig II of Bavaria. His work is a seamless concoction of styles and narratives which pose the question as to whether the history of art is absorbed into his contemporary work or vice versa.
Accessibility for viewers hints at a wider appeal with an element of humour providing a sense of instant gratification. Upon closer inspection, layers beneath the surface begin to appear. Religion, mythology, history and pop culture intertwine, reference points bathed in inspiration and craftsmanship. Drink Me (2011), a Picasso in “Le Roi” / “Cavalier” mode includes references to Henri Matisse and Henri Rousseau as well as Diego Velasquez, Rembrandt and literary illustration using Alice in Wonderland as the central character. Elsewhere, this same element of playfulness can be seen in several of the works including My Name is Snow White (2014) and Snow in Auvergne (2014) which places Snow White in a Mondrian framework. A combination that works particularly well is Four Feet Ten in One Sock (2014), an appropriation of Therese Dreaming (1938) by Balthus in which Snow White replaces Therese Blanchard.
Using these visual references, von Lenkiewicz plays with the language of art history. Layering one world upon another, he breaks with convention and introduces the notion of a new, shared story, enabling the audience to derive new meanings. Essentially, he is taking on the challenge of what he calls “post-historic practice” focusing on iconic images and bringing them into the modern world. There are darker, more unsettling elements to some of Lenkiewicz’s work. Still Life (Truncated Limbs and Cats) (2013) depicts cats and severed limbs among piles of game, an apparent commentary upon the fragility of life. In a similar vein, Still Life (Peaches and Guillotined Head) (2013) is based upon Roland de la Porte’s Still Life (c1765) portraying peaches alongside a severed head.
Whilst this process of image manipulation may be considered somewhat controversial, von Lenkiewicz’s works also possess magic and beauty, taking on the challenge of attempting to bring history back to life or somehow reinvent it. Lenkiewicz’s artistic intentions dictate and determine the circumstances in which these competing and combining forces interact with the artistic exterior hiding deeper philosophical meanings within. The artist alters the subject by destroying or removing the original boundaries such that category and chronology are no longer relevant and it is left to interpretation whether it is praise or criticism of the established culture acting as the catalyst for this creative process. In that sense, von Lenkiewicz does not uproot the tree, he shakes the branches a little in order to allow new life to enter thereby adjusting our preconceptions, his work suggesting that the completion of any artwork is not the end, it is just the beginning.
Wolfe von Lenkiewicz, Paintings Drawings Film, currently on display at Riflemaker, 79 Beak Street, London, W1F 9SU.
1. Drink Me, Wolfe von Lenkiewicz, Oil on canvas, 210 x 160 cm, 2011, courtesy of the artist.