The Lester Family brought the Lester Family Circus to ROTA Gallery in Plattsburgh last Saturday. From left are Ashley Lester, Kate Bourgeois, Elliot Daugherty and Amanda Lester. Missing: Courtney Lester.
PLATTSBURGH— There are art openings, and then there are events.
When the Lester Family Circus puts a show together, it’s the latter.
The walls in the ROTA Gallery are always adorned with artwork, but on Friday, May 31, the space was nothing short of a spectacle.
Brightly colored ribbons hung from the ceiling and criss-crossed the walls.
Strange relics, like a dried alligator head and a bone xylophone, decorated table tops.
There was even a popcorn machine, cotton candy, circus peanuts, live music and fire—all of the makings of a good circus.
And, of course, the Lester Family—sisters Ashley, Amanda and Courtney Lester, and friends Elliot Daugherty and Kate Bourgeois—were also there with a selection of their artwork.
The Lester Family held their first circus at the old ROTA gallery space and drew a crowd of about 250 people.
The latest Lester Family Circus also drew a crowd, including musicians and poi fire dancers.
“We don’t like to call this an opening because we want people to experience why art is important,” Daugherty said. “It’s because of community relations, because of personal relationships and new friendships.
Daugherty has installation work on display, as well as some of his pen and ink drawings, which he said are his specialty.
The pieces differ in both size and appearance, but they are all designed to influence discussion.
Flush against a wall is an electric chair Daugherty constructed using an old chair, belts, a lamp and a damaged wooden pallet.
A pile of ash sits at the feet of the chair.
The entire piece is drab browns and grays, brightened only by red rose petals and a soft glow that emits from the chair’s skull cap.
To Daugherty, it represents various aspects of love and relationships.
But, as with all of his work, it’s really up to the viewer’s interpretation.
Ashley’s medium of choice is painting, and her imagery is more direct that Daugherty’s.
“What got me into paintings was World War II propaganda,” Ashley said. “There is this look to them, with the images and the colors they used, that fascinates me.”
The colors in her paintings reflect that inspiration, but instead of patriotism and propaganda, Ashley’s paintings focus more on subjects in her life.
Some of her newer pieces incorporate collage work into the images.
Ashley said she usually has an image in mind when she starts painting, but her twin sister, Amanda, works in a different way.
“I don’t want things to look exact, it’s more of an emotional experience than anything,” Amanda said. “It always comes out completely different from what I think.
The emotional aspect of Amanda’s work seems to run deep—so deep, in fact, that she can’t bring herself to sell any of her pieces, making the Lester Family Circus II a rare opportunity for the public to view them.
Amanda’s images range from an abstract row of birch trees to people.
There are no rules when she paints, as long as she feels a connection to the work.
“I like to feel that connection, to feel the paint,” Amanda said. “Sometimes I use my hands. Some of the paintings have a lot more paint on some of them. Those were painted during more emotional times.”
The third, and youngest, Lester sister is Courtney, whose painting “The Criminal” won Best in Show at the North Country Cultural Center for the Arts’ High and Middle School Exhibition in March.
“The Criminal” is currently on display at ROTA, along with about 10 of her other paintings.
Being part of the Lester Family is encouraging to her, and helps inspire her to keep making art.
“It’s pretty welcoming having other artists in the family,” Courtney said. “We’re always encouraging each other.”
Courtney’s primary interest lies in human anatomy, and she said that the more she observes, and paints, it, the more she appreciates it.
But her work doesn’t look like pages that were torn from Gray’s Anatomy.
“I like to bring out people’s imaginations, and make them wonder what made me think to paint that,” Courtney said. “I think the paintings speak for themselves.”
Kate Bourgeois’ photography speaks for itself, too.
A few of the photos she has on display were taken in an abandoned girls school in Poughkeepsie.
The subjects are damaged, neglected places that few people care to visit.
On the wall facing those pictures is a provocative series of black and white photos of some of her close friends.
The images aren’t typical portrait pieces, though.
“The concept I was going for was taking what society has nicknamed the sexual female parts of the body and throwing that very literally into people’s faces,” Bourgeois said. “It’s supposed to be humorous but at the same time make people question why we call our body parts other names. Are we ashamed to use the proper terms?”
Bourgeois stressed that the series is not meant to make people feel guilty for using slang terms, but hopes it will instead promote discussion.
“It’s a little bit of a feminist statement, and a little bit of a political statement, but I also wanted people to be able to giggle at it,” she said. “I just want people to take something away from it.”