Deriving from rinascere, an Italian word meaning ‘to be reborn,’ it is fitting that the work of Dutch Renaissance artist Hieronymus Bosch is reborn in a contemporary interpretation by Wolfe von Lenkiewicz. All Visual Arts current exhibition features large-scale drawings and paintings based on Bosch’s most famous work, The Garden of Earthly Delights (1490-1510).
Held at the Museo del Prado in Madrid, The Garden of Earthly Delights is one of the most famous triptychs of the Renaissance. Attempting to see the painting is similar in experience to trying to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre – a lot of pushing and elbowing resulting in very little time with the actual work. Every student of art history encounters this work and inspects the intricate details that would take months of study to fully analyze. Von Lenkiewicz moves beyond the role of student and assimilates Bosch’s masterpiece into his own artistic practice.
Upon entering All Visual Art’s cavernous space it almost seems as though Bosch’s work occupies the walls, not that of another artist who works centuries later. The sheer output of work is incredible and the attention to detail inspires viewers to become acquainted with every inch of the work. It is frustrating to know that it is unlikely viewers will be able to fully view each piece of the collection in all of its intricacy.
Four massive triptychs predominate the gallery space – two in pencil, two in oil; two depict the most famous of Bosch’s work The Garden of Earthly Delights, two replicate The Haywain. All four images at first glance appear remarkably similar – the large centre space represents the mortal world with the garden of Eden to the left and Hell on the right. This sort of dichotomous iconology reflects the basic preaching of Christian faith: one’s actions on earth determine the bliss or terror of the afterlife.
While from a distance the works seem identical to Bosch’s, it is through spending time with each image that the contemporary and cross-cultural iconography becomes obvious, drawing a clear line of separation between the old and the new. Compositionally, the various elements of the paintings and drawings remain the same, but new figures place the works in modernity. For the most part the contemporary elements are drawn from traditional Hindu iconography and pop culture, such as Pokemon. These disparate reference points come together to create scenes that are as bizarre as Bosch’s may have been viewed at the time. Perhaps the most recognizable of Bosch’s vignettes is the egg-shaped witch-like figure that stands in the centre of the panel representing hell. Von Lenkiewicz has maintained the ovate form but gives the mythical creature a many-armed torso reminiscent of Hindu gods (who are often depicted with multiple limbs to separate them from humans). The choice of new symbols adds interest to the works, but it would be more powerful if more pertinent contemporary images were included. Michelangelo included portraits of some of his contemporaries in The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel, and while this resulted in much criticism the artist demonstrated his unique voice and opinions regarding contemporary affairs. It is good von Lenkiewicz does not condemn well-known figures to hell, but the paintings and drawings would achieve significantly more depth with a broader interpretation of the times. Pokemon assimilate well with Bosch’s made-up creatures both beneficent and malicious, but the reference is rather outdated. Incorporating Hinduism is a pleasant reaction to the multicultural world in which many find themselves, but broadening the horizons to include more world religions would speak to the cultural melting pot found in London and elsewhere around the world.
Although the subject matter could be further development to create more impact, in terms of technique, von Lenkiewicz is undoubtedly tremendously skilled. The drawings in particular have an immediacy and charm that is less apparent in the paintings. Perhaps it is because the painting style seeks to recreate that of Bosch that the paintings appear a bit flat, a bit staid. The paintings are executed well, with lovely colours and a beautifully smooth surface, but this separates the viewer from the artist and becomes a bit superficial. With the drawings, however, the artist’s hand is evident and every stroke and shadow can be discerned. Pencil is typically viewed as a medium for preparatory sketches, for the imperfect, but von Lenkiewicz demonstrates the power of the simple pencil for executing large-scale, finished works.
The main gallery and back room display a number of other drawings and smaller paintings, but the four major triptychs steal the show. The other works continue to cross cultural divides and bridge the gap between high and low art: monks are placed beside Pokemon, Bosch’s Creation of the World becomes inseparably fused with one of Hokusai’s iconic prints. Von Lenkiewicz’s imagination is a strange place, but mixed with high artistic ability, the artist’s bizarre world is opened for scrutiny, for enjoyment, and for contemplation.
*** Three Stars Words: Emily Sack © ArtLyst 2012