Should Robert Lenkiewicz’s Barbican mural be saved – these people think so
Councillor Maddi Bridgman, Henry Hutchins, and Kevin Kelway
By William Telford, Business Editor, Plymouth Herald
A group of businesspeople have started a campaign to save the famous Robert Lenkiewicz mural on the Barbican – and want make it a tourist attraction for 2020.
Henry Hutchins, chief executive of Clever Student Lets, says it is a “disgrace” that the 3,000sq ft Barbican mural is neglected and crumbling.
He is now publicly urging those behind the city’s Mayflower 400 celebrations to look at restoring the enormous artwork, originally painted in 1972.
But the Lenkiewicz Foundation, the organisation working to preserve the famous artist’s legacy, said the mural is beyond help.
It said experts put the bill at merely maintaining it in the shabby condition it is in at present at a mindboggling £435,000.
The Foundation said cash would be better spent on creating a gallery to showcase the bohemian’s best works.
It is even exploring the idea of a modern digital version of the mural, which used every day Plymothians as historical characters.
The organisation would do something similar, dressing people as the characters and then photographing them so a composite image could be projected onto a screen covering the original mural.
But its bid for £35,000 of Mayflower 400 funding has already been kiboshed.
Meanwhile, Maddi Bridgeman, a businesswomen and Tory city councillor, said she is prepared to use some of her communitygrant to kick-start a crowdfunding drive to at least protect the mural.
Cllr Bridgeman, whose father was painted by Lenkiewicz in the 1980s, said: “This is our history and we should be celebrating it. I’d forgotten just how beautiful it (the mural) was.”
Mr Hutchins said the mural remains a huge draw and added: “When we came to look at it there were two people photographing it.
Councillor Maddi Bridman and Henry Hutchins
“Lenkiewicz is one of the greatest 20th Century artists and probably the greatest Plymouth has produced.
“I met Robert two or three times, you won’t find anyone in Plymouth who does not know him.
“We should show this to the world – it would be a real tourist draw.”
Robert Lenkiewicz painted this 8ft painting of Kevin Kelway in the 1990s when campaigning for Barbican community issues
Kevin Kelway, who runs Dorcas Media, grew up on the Barbican and remembers watching Lenkiewicz painting the mural.
He said three of his cousins are depicted in the image.
“Robert wanted to brighten the area up,” he said.
“I worked with Robert in the 1990s on the Barbican residents’ group.
“He was part of the community and we should fight for his legacy.
“This mural is part of Plymouth’s heritage.”
However, Mark Penwill, from the Lenkiewicz Foundation, said: “The mural is not saveable.”
In 2015 the Foundation commissioned art conservationist Richard Pelter to look at the mural, which is on a building owned by a private developer.
Mr Penwill said the subsequent report said the mural could not be restored and could only be preserved at great cost.
He said Lenkiewicz, who died in 2002 at the age of 61, never expected the mural to survive anyway.
“He used exterior paint which had a 15-year life span,” Mr Penwill said. “He knew it would not last forever.
“In the late 1980s he went to cover it over, that’s why there is wood on it.
“He was going to put a plywood sheet over it, shielding it, and then do another mural on that.
“So even if you had £500,000 to preserve his legacy maybe a mural would not be the thing to do.
“But a permanent gallery on the Barbican would be excellent.”