Transformations, an installation by Brian Lester

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-K2WJVpPf8t.jpg’, ”, ‘Old belts make the transformation to upholstery in the show at Kortman’s.’);

Kortman’s Gallery and Center for Design has discovered the unique mind of Brian Lester. In his first solo show, Transformations, the Rockford native develops ideas that are beyond your strangest dream. Climb the stairs to the gallery and you literally step into his mind–a world that only exists in that room and the artist’s imagination. It is a surreal world that will grow and change over the course of the exhibition this summer.

Some of Brian Lester’s work straddles that fine, and controversial, line between funk and function, but his ideas are so unique that they fall exclusively into the realm of fine art. Like Joseph Cornell, he is an obsessive collector, using found materials to create another reality. But while Cornell expressed his version of the universe in miniature collage boxes, Lester’s vision is modern, youthful and full-sized.

In his conceptual pieces, a stool looks like river rocks but is soft and comfortable; sculptures double as lamps, and his chandelier might evoke memories of fraternity parties back when guys wore ties to such events. But the wonder of this work is that the materials are never easily identifiable, and the impact of each piece is not diminished when you realize that it is made out of pot lids or nut dishes. You never look at a work and say “why didn’t I think of that?” You and I would never have thought of using these materials in these or, dare I say, any other ways.

You first realize that you are viewing the work of a unique mind when you come up the gallery stairs and smell paint. Three mirrors hang to your left in very ornate, yet throughly modern frames. Then you face “Spring Balls,” a room divider of springy phone cords hanging from the ceiling. Weighted with some things akin to Christmas balls, they dance when you can no longer resist touching them. It’s not until you get home that it dawns on you that extra long phone cords have entered the realm of “retro”– a thing of the recent past and, thus, a very fresh and contemporary art “media” for the future.

One unique sculpture, “Litlids,” is contemporary. Or is it ‘50s funky and modern? Or is it a lamp? And what is it made of? It turns out to be created from a two-and-one-half year search and collection of aluminum pot lids—all carefully graduated in size. Whiffle, practice golf balls have been used as spacers. Brian Lester’s pieces are so close to fine art but so far from anything you have known before that they invite, but defy, categorization.

There are several “trees” in the exhibition from delicate bamboo-looking shoots to muscular oaks or maples. “Transformation Tree” is large, sheltering and mystifying. Its heavy wire roots overhang its pedestal and morph into the trunk and then the limbs. But the leaves are strangely familiar. They mark another two-year search of flea markets and thrift stores–this time for leaf-shaped nut dishes like my mother’s. These make it a truly one-of-a-kind sculpture.

Quality craftsmanship ensures that this work is sturdy and functional. Many of the pieces are supported on what appear to be large, worn river rocks. These are actually wonderfully distressed and inverted concrete bowls, though, which make the positioning of various supports feasible. “Seat Belt” is a functional and comfortable chair with very humble beginnings. It is woven from men’s leather belts buckled together. Then there is the chandelier. I can’t give away all of Brian Lester’s secrets. This one you will have to come and see for yourself.

This exhibition is not one about unusual materials, instead it is about Lester’s creative and active mind. It is an honor to be able to share in his very personal imagination. The exhibition will continue at Kortman’s Gallery and Center for Design, 107 N. Main Street, Rockford, through Sept. 5. Hours are Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. 6 p.m. Phone: 968-0123.

Susan Webb Tregay is an artist and author whose work can be found at Eau Gallie Gallery in Rockton, the Spring Street Gallery in Galena, and at her web site,

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!