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):