Normal History Vol. 408: 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 33-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

In December, Courtney Jaxon bought one of my paintings called No Hat #116 aka Shanny McIntosh. I don’t actually know Shanny, but there was something compelling about the photo I based the painting on.

Courtney is a musician and vintage clothing retailer in Arcata, Calif. Shanny is a curator and writer from Hudson, N.Y., who participated in a live art event at Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) in Portland, Ore., in October that included several of my paintings and a short documentary film I made about my work.

As far as I know, Courtney doesn’t know Shanny, but rather, the painting affected her in some way, which is what I intend to have happen. It is that response to the work—and not essentially the subject—that is very encouraging. Even when I take on commissions (which I rarely do), I am heartened by clients who express a particular point: The painting doesn’t need to look like the subject!

Most painters don’t connect with potential buyers as immediately as I do. I photograph paintings and post them on Facebook as soon as they’re dry. Response time is an integral part of the process. Some have sold within a few minutes, which is a phenomenon difficult to replicate in any pre-internet era.

Later in December, the Director of Center for Contemporary Art & Culture at PNCA (where the live art event took place) bought the second painting based on the same photo of Shanny.

These paintings are two of the more realistic ones I’ve done. When I started painting for a living almost a year ago, I assumed that the higher the degree of realism, the more popular a painting would be, but I have been very surprised to find out this isn’t true. Putting my paintings in front of what is primarily a Mecca Normal audience has allowed me to veer away from realism in the same way I make music. The degrees of divergence away from convention that the two disciplines maintain seem oddly hinged to each other. Maybe like two lines on a chart that reflects both daytime (audio) and nighttime (visual) temperatures (responses). They aren’t parallel lines, but they relate to each other.

“I Walk Alone” from the album Mecca Normal (Smarten UP!, 1986; reissued by K, 1995) (download):