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In The Frame for November 2014: Stanley Lench’s ‘Malevich’


Kasimir Malevich is a name floating around the public consciousness at the moment, as the subject of a recent major retrospective at Tate Modern. On first hearing about it, this painting by Stanley Lench immediately came to mind.

The art of Malevich (who for a large part of his career utilised bold colours, geometric lines and shapes in his work), would have been well known to Stanley Lench, a student in the stained glass department of the Royal College of Art in the late 1950s. This painting is a wonderfully emblematic example of Lench’s work that simultaneously offers a glimpse into his life. Lench suffered from depression from a young age, and long periods of illness forced him into reclusiveness. Despite a lack of social interaction during these times, Lench still kept up with what was happening in the art world, occasionally venturing out to new exhibitions. The brightly coloured shapes and animated inscription indicate that Malevich, in its most simple reading, is a visual appreciation of the artist of the same name. It is also a perceptible acknowledgment by Lench of the self-referential nature of Western art history.

The focal point of the painting however is a pile of embedded faces, and the multiplicity of this feature (and its prominent position within the work), implies Lench’s fascination with beauty and mortality.

As well as being technically accomplished, Lench became familiar with the machinations of the art world through observing the comings and goings of artists, dealers and curators whilst working as a gallery attendant at Tate. He was repulsed by this world, and became frustrated that he himself was largely ignored as an artist-something that clearly upset him. When asked in an interview with a friend about why he painted, he replied “to cheat death and time.” Lench wanted to be remembered. At once, Malevich strengthens this plea- it demonstrates Lench’s technical ability, asserts his intellect and communicates his preoccupation with mortality.

Of all the artists represented by the Bethlem collection, Lench is my favourite, and it is heartening to know that he will continue to cheat death and time through the ongoing work of the Bethlem Museum of the Mind.