Category Archives: DAVID LESTER ART

Normal History Vol. 379: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 32-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

In late February, I was beyond thrilled when an artist whose paintings were exhibited in the 2014 Whitney Biennial bought a painting from my ongoing series of $100 portraits, and soon thereafter made this bold comment on my Facebook page.

“Jean Smith is a fucking genius. She is one half of the long running avant garde band, Mecca Normal and she is a published novelist and lately she is writing and posting lengthy tender reports on the banality of aging, living, loving, working. She is unsentimental, but her work always leaves me with my own bruised longing exposed.”

—Molly Zuckerman-Hartung, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Art Institute of Chicago; Visiting Critic, Yale University School Of Art

tag: art, labor history, tender reports

“No Mind’s Eye” from the album The Family Swan (Kill Rock Stars, 2002) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 378: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 32-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

“The eight-minute title track finds father and daughter at each other’s throats.” —Franklin Bruno, Boston Phoenix, in a review of Mecca Normal’s album The Family Swan

Back in 2002, when this song was written, no one, least of all my parents, thought they’d still be alive in 2016! They have become physically more frail, yet mentally, at 91 and 96, they are pretty together. They live independently in a mobile home par, and I talk to them once a week on the phone. My rapport with both of them has changed drastically. For the better with my father, with whom I am now quite unfiltered. I’ve allowed him to see how amusing I am, and we laugh a lot more than we used to! With my mother, the elder of the two, I feel more distant as her hearing and memory fail her.

It is surreal to be doing and selling portrait paintings after quitting my most recent part-time job in mid-April. Surreal because I began painting self-portraits at age 13, and now I’m painting full time, reconnecting with what became a secondary practice for many years. Secondary to music and writing. Thirdary, really. Surreal because, so far, I’ve been able to earn enough to pay my bills painting! Also surreal because my parents (the semi-autobiographical subjects of the song “Family Swan”) were both professional painters, and now, suddenly, they’re very interested that I am selling paintings hand over fist from my Facebook page.

They are very critical and vociferous people who tend to express their negativity with a certain amount of glee. Having done some work on myself in recent years, I was only slightly nervous about showing them a silent video of all the paintings. Turns out they were very impressed! Years after I stopped wanting or needing parental validation, I got me some!

I recently added a monologue to the video of all the paintings that touches on my early introduction to the concept of quality, and my indoctrination into believing that paintings are about human interactions and, essentially, part of those same interactions.

“Family Swan” from the album The Family Swan (Kill Rock Stars, 2002) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 377: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 32-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

At the BC Book Prizes in Victoria on April 30, BC BookWorld publisher Alan Twigg received the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence. In his acceptance speech, he thanked David Lester and four other people who contributed to his life’s work as a writer.

“For the last 29 years, David Lester and I have been doing BC BookWorld. I could not have done this by myself, and the fact that Dave has been with me, not just as a friend but … his values are so high that he keeps me doing what I do.”

—Alan Twigg

My sentiments exactly! Congratulations, Alan! Well done (and thank you), David!

“I Hear You” from the album The Family Swan (Kill Rock Stars, 2002) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 376: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 32-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

Excerpt from a letter of high praise, that reveals a comparison of David Lester’s artwork on the cover of the summer edition of British Columbia History magazine with that of Henry Moore, the seminal British sculptor.

“As much as I’ve benefited from listening to and experiencing your music, your visual art has struck me even more strongly. When I was in my 20s, I remember having a similarly strong response to the sculpture of Henry Moore. Until seeing your work, I thought for sure that that response (which I can’t yet describe adequately) would remain singular.

It shouldn’t go without saying thank you for that. You’ve put a lot of good energy into a world that sorely needs it.”

—John Brodeur, clinical instructor in education, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

“Every Wrong Word” from the album The Family Swan (Kill Rock Stars, 2002) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 375: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 32-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

David Lester’s impeccably drawn “The Battle Of Ballantyne Pier” has been published in an anthology called Drawn To Change: Graphic Histories Of Working-Class Struggle. It’s fantastic that they got a quote from Noam Chomsky! “This evocative collection of the struggles and achievements of labor organizing should inspire us to ‘dream of what might be’ and to act to bring it about.”

On a different, but related front, David has posted some of the first drawings for his graphic novel in progress about Emma Goldman.

“In January” from the album The Family Swan (Kill Rock Stars, 2002) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 374: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 32-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

After I cleaned out my locker at Home Depot and shoved everything in my packsack, I got two bags of soil and a few plants, and strapped them to the trolley-thingy. It was very heavy, but it seemed like the whole thing would hold together for the 30-minute walk uphill to my place. It was a fairly warm day—definitely in the high 60s—and, because I didn’t have room in my packsack for the ski jacket that had been in my locker since I was hired in February, I had to wear it. I’m sure this added a touch of the absurd to the image of a 57-year-old lady towing bags of soil across the quarter-mile long viaduct in shorts with windswept hair poking out from under her cap. I must admit I’d wondered if a fellow I met at a photo opening days before would take the hint and pick me up after work, but no. He’d messaged me on Facebook telling me to let him know if I wanted to go for a coffee, which, for some men is as close as it gets to actually asking a woman out. I know. I know. It’s tough. I told him I was working. He asked where and I told him: the garden center at Home Depot. Easy enough to find. I told him it was my last day, and I posted my plan to lug soil home after work, but no. He didn’t magically arrive. That would have been too much, and these things just don’t happen. Not to me. Not any more. I am one who lugs my soil home alone. Grumble grumble.

I made it through the busy intersection without the whole thing coming apart in some sort of cartoon implosion sequence with honking car horns and swearing motorists. I cut over to a quiet side street thinking that someone might, in a better world, stop their car and offer me a ride. I was about halfway up the hill when I heard a voice calling my name from inside a parked car. I ducked down to see who was in the driver’s seat. It was painter Joyce Woods! I told her I’d just quit my job—like, just minutes ago—to paint! The incredible thing is that Joyce bought the very first one in my $100 Paintings series!

It was very sweet of her to offer me a ride, but since I was already halfway there—and feeling much better about everything—I figured I’d continue on my own. Happily alone.

“Revolution#Pine” from the album The Family Swan (Kill Rock Stars, 2002) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 373: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 32-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

This blurb has been a mainstay in the Mecca Normal press kit since 1993, when Gina Arnold wrote it for the San Diego Reader. I had no idea that she had to deal with ongoing vitriol and harassment for 10 years while writing her column for Planet Clair.

I don’t think I’ve ever thanked Gina for this review! It was definitely fuel for us along the way!! Thank you, Gina!

“Mecca Normal’s Jean Smith would be a heroine in any age: her beautiful harsh voice, her uncompromising lyrics, her sheer performing dignity guarantee her that. But until you see her face down a crowd of hypocritical and uninterested punk rockers, you don’t know what true heroism is. Smith’s music is dissonant, deeply felt, feminist, courageous.” —Gina Arnold, San Diego Reader, 1993

“What About The Boy?” from the album The Family Swan (Kill Rock Stars, 2002) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 372: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 32-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

Nice response to my resignation letter from the HR guy at Home Depot:
Hi Jean,
I am sorry to hear that you are leaving us. Can I do anything with your schedule to retain you? I enjoyed having you here. Thanks for letting me know.
HR guy

My reply.

Hi HR guy,

Thank you very much for trying to accommodate me. I really appreciate the gesture.

Here’s what happened. In February, while I was somewhat desperately looking for a job, I started painting a series of $100 USD portraits. I posted them on my Facebook page with the hope that I could sell a few to pay part of the rent. The first one sold within five hours, and then a couple of hours after that, someone offered to pay me in advance for the next one! The series is called The Hat—basically, it’s a woman wearing a floppy black hat. I painted about 30 of these (11″ x 14″) in February and sold more than half of them!

I started painting self-portraits when I was a teenager (both my parents are painters, and I’ve always painted, which is why I applied for a position in the paint department), but it never occurred to me that there’d be a market for general portraits. I’ve had two painting instructors (including one from the world-renowned Art Institute of Chicago) buy them, as well as a painter whose work was in the 2014 Whitney Biennial (one of the most important art exhibits in the world). An art critic who writes for Artforum magazine bought two! I’m really quite in shock over all this!

I think I recall you saying you play music, so maybe you can relate to my history. I’ve been the singer in a band for 30 years (with 16 albums out on excellent U.S. indie-type labels … one with a four-star review in Rolling Stone), and while things were good in the 1990s (with bigger shows and advances from record companies), it’s currently tough to make a living in music—or the arts. I also write novels. I have a literary agent submitting one of them to big publishers in the U.S., but it’s been more than a year now. I keep all these things going because it’s what I do. Occasionally, I present a classroom event or we play a show that pays OK. As an artist (and a single person), a part-time job takes the pressure off the art, but I can’t let that job destroy the creative balance I maintain.

Back to the painting. In March, I painted half as many as I did in February and half of those sold, but working at Home Depot in March was disruptive to both my early-morning writing schedule and to having enough time to paint.

If I wasn’t having this current success with painting, I would have stayed on and worked out the schedule with you. I need to see where the painting is going while there is interest in what I’m doing! I hope you understand.

Out of respect for the way you approach your position at HD and the kindness you have shown me, I wanted to tell you the back story. I hope it isn’t too long or too much.

All the best, HR guy!

—Jean

“Is This You?” from the album The Family Swan (Kill Rock Stars, 2002) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 371: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 32-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

A while back, I went down to Horses Records to see a couple of bands play. It was an early show, but it was already dark as I walked alone down a quiet side street. I saw a guy ahead of me who looked like he might be going to the show, too. Maybe it was the across-the-body strap of his bag and the set of his woolly hat—and I took into consideration that I was probably totally wrong because that whole area has had an influx of young people and it seemed more likely that he was just one of them going to a cafe along the same stretch of East Hastings that Horses occupies.

Before we got to the corner, he crossed the street and went into the bank to use the ATM. At that moment, a 1970s muscle car—an orange and black Charger—pulled up at the light with “Smoke On The Water” playing through a rolled-down window. It was great! And the guy driving looked a lot like Burt Reynolds. The light changed to green, the Charger drove on and the guy with the hat and bag came out of the bank not having seen or heard any of it. I thought to myself, “If that guy is at the show, I’ll tell him about the small incident that he missed.” You know, just for fun. I crossed the road and walked past a slew of sandwich boards outside restaurants and coffee shops that weren’t there five years ago when this was … what do you call a neighborhood before hipsters move in? Working class? I dunno. Unpretentious? Not that I actually have anything against pretension.

I go into Horses, wander to the back and talk to Dan of the fantastic band Lt. Frank Dickens. There are only a few people in the store, but the guy with the hat and bag is among them. Eventually, while we’re standing around waiting for the replacement PA to show up, I tell him my story. He immediately uses a sentence that has the phrase “my girlfriend” in it and I’m thinking, “Oh yes, I get that. Don’t worry young bearded man with glasses, I’m not hitting on you.” I continue talking, referencing changes in the neighborhood, and he responds by saying that his father brought him here in the ’90s—when he was a teenager. Yes, yes, I understand young man. You have a girlfriend, and I’m 30 years older than you, but don’t worry, I’m not hitting on you. Really really really, I’m not. I’m just talking to you. Good lord.

Later, while he’s engrossed in examining LPs in the bins, I notice his head snap around when someone I’m talking to asks about my music. Still holding up the LP, he’s staring at me as if his assumptions about an old lady hanging around a record store chatting up young dudes such as himself has been blown out of the water. Quite a lovely moment. Not nearly as lovely as the Burt Reynolds look-a-like cruising E. Hastings with “Smoke On The Water” blasting from his muscle car, but still quite good.

“In Canada” from the album Who Shot Elvis? (Matador, 1996) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 370: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 32-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

Back in late January, when I filled out my application for Home Depot I put “unstable owner” as my reason for leaving the Gourmet Warehouse. I’m sure they’d know what I was referring to.

I would have liked to contribute to a small business where my work ethic, skills and ideas were respected, but working at the Gourmet Warehouse was nothing like that at all. Working for Home Depot makes me realize what being involved with the lunatics at Gourmet Warehouse was doing to me. I am so much happier now even though it’s a dollar less an hour.

I’ve been told that some of the folks at Home Depot “bleed orange” but I think it’s going to be OK to come in, do the work and maintain a healthy work and art balance. I don’t want to “move up” or get too involved. It all starts to unravel when people want to play the game.

“Don’t Heel Me Like A Dog Just To Break Me Like A Horse” from the album Who Shot Elvis? (Matador, 1996) (download):

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