Bethlem Archives and Museum has an impressive collection of work by artist Stanley Lench (1934-2000) that now forms an exciting exhibition at Bethlem Gallery, opening on 26 September. Lench taught himself to paint as a teenager and excelled, holding an exhibition at the Beaux Art Gallery aged 19 that helped him secure a place in the stained glass department of the Royal College of Art. Inspired by ancient cultures, Cubism and silent film, Lench studied during the emergence of pop art, from 1955-1958.
Dancing Cats (1949)
The exhibition of Lench’s work Cheating Death and Time, supported by a recorded interview with the artist, seeks to examine his art, interests and ideas. The title of the exhibition draws from the interview, but also reflects themes in Lench’s work: youth, glamour, beauty and its defiler, mortality.
After graduating from the Royal College of Art, Lench enjoyed some commercial success, selling work to Dame Edith Sitwell, and a portrait of actress Pola Negri to the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Throughout his career, Lench experienced periods of great artistic creativity interspersed with periods of introspection and seclusion, and was treated on a number of occasions at Bethlem Royal Hospital and the Maudsley Hospital. Lench worried about his career as an artist, and felt rejected by the art world he continued to support through frequenting exhibitions and later working at Tate.
Drawings included in the exhibition reflect his feelings about this ‘bourgeois artistic clique’ (as he named them) very strongly, through their composition and inscriptions: such as 1978’s The Two-Faced Pig of Art, about which we have blogged previously. Some of these drawings were undertaken during a stay at Bethlem. While being treated at Bethlem, Lench also engaged with museum staff and the design for a door panel commissioned by a former curator can be seen on display, demonstrating the same bold, stained glass style as his paintings.
Despite concerns about his career, Lench succeeded in forging a strong aesthetic and thematic style that was grounded in art history and bound up in his own interests and ideas. In doing this, Lench cheated death and time, leaving a collection of art work for posterity that is both beautiful and didactic.
Exhibition Runs: 26 September – 19 October
Opening Times: Wednesday to Friday and Saturday 6 October, 11am – 5pm
Location: Bethlem Gallery
Marlene Dietrich with Skull (1975)