Lester’s versatile Transformations Installation at Kortman

Artist displays wire sculptures, ceramics, and paintings in his first show at JR Kortman Center

Among artists, there are individuals with a strong creative drive that comes before a particular medium or style. For such types, the idea and inspiration is what matters; all else is secondary. This is the case of Brian Lester, in his first show at Kortman Center for Design of, well, everything.

In Transformations Installation: An environment of ingenuity, there is wire sculpture, ceramics, painting, and incongruously, the backdrops for romance novel covers the artist paints as a part-time job. You’ve entered a strange land, so look carefully. You will be surprised.

Lester, a self-taught artist and former sailor in the Navy, divines his inspiration everywhere. True to the show’s title, he takes discarded or neglected items and transforms them into something new and unique. Interesting items lead to the entire piece—the “what if” vision of what could be done with an object that possesses an interesting line or form. Lester cites thrift shops and home improvement stores as favorite places for finding inspiration: the dusty wooden salad bowl or the length of copper pipe sparks sculpture both functional and decorative.

Transformations is more than the commercially clever breed of decorative/found object art—no picture frames made from cans or bottlecap icons—but is frequently ingenious. Recovering chairs is nothing new, but recovering a chair with woven leather belts is. So is a chandelier—an attractive one at that—made from men’s neckties. Other pieces conceal the original objects instead of highlighting them.

The most sophisticated piece in the show bears no resemblance to what it is made of. A copper standing frame suspends a stack of aluminum disks, resulting in a strikingly minimal sculpture reminiscent of Art Deco. Plumbing pipe and pot lids are thus proven worthy of fine art.

A unique play on the natural and man-made with an element of surprise is central to Lester’s Rock Ottoman. The base is made of cast concrete, nearly identical to the soft rock cushions of the cover.

This is a show that cannot be categorized. Is it functional? Yes. Is it conceptual? Yes. Is it an installation? Yes. And, interestingly, it could all change over the course of the summer as Lester plans on adding to individual pieces and displaying more work as time goes by. He recommends coming back more than once and definitely for the last week of the show.

“I want to break all the rules…I want to surprise people,” Lester said.

He certainly has.

An Environment of Ingenuity can be seen at JR Kortman Center for Design from now until Aug. 25. Info: 968-0123.

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