David Lester & Jean Smith

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"Inspired Agitators" -- an ongoing series of fifteen posters by David Lester. Tommy Douglas was the instigator behind Canada's universal health care system.

"Horse & Rider #3" by Jean Smith -- a series of paintings intending to pose the question: "Do people like political art because they agree with its message?"

David Lester & Jean Smith of Mecca Normal present
Inspired Agitators & The Pantomime Horse
-- a one act play. A play in the form of an art exhibit. Moving a concept into production, from vision to presentation. The pantomime horse is the duo in collaboration... arguing... working together. Unison. Tension. Rebellion. The theme of the play is the production of art with political content. Limitations. Folly. Freedom.

The art exhibit is hung as a linear stage play with beginning and end points. Static images form a flexible narrative.

The playwright grapples with presenting political content -- how much does he need to reveal to make his point? Literal content is represented by David's series of posters "Inspired Agitators" and by Jean's paintings "Playwright's Vision" and "We're Here Now. Everything Is Ours. Too Bad For You." -- which humourously depicts an RCMP officer confronting a group of people, presumably First Nations, with his version of reality. The semi-obscured people respond with, "Maybe He's Lost." This scene is painted twice -- once to represent the playwright's original vision of the scene, and again as the actual scene. Here, the Pantomime Horse replaces the image of a real horse; the trees are cut-out shapes on the edge of the stage.

Several pieces show a negative audience response to the play, leaving the playwright to anguish over the difficulty of presenting politcal ideas. The inclusion of these behind-the-scenes reactions extends the boundaries of the exhibit to include the viewers' concerns -- one might relate to the playwright or the audience, or both. These reactions introduce the issue of artistic success and failure -- do either the play or art exhibit succeed at what they are attempting to accomplish?

elements of the show:

Click here to see a selection of art from beginning to end, including:
- stressed-out playwright
- playwright's heroic ambition for the play
- the playbill
- thespians awaiting direction
- the critic scrutinizing
- rudimentary paper maché head of the Pantomime Horse
- backdrop provides a sense of scale of the stage
- flat outline of props on backdrop shows the transition from artistic vision to reality
- two versions of "We're Here Now. Too Bad For You. Everything Is Ours." paintings show the Playwright's Vision as compared to the reality of the play
- the storyboard outlines the scene where the partners inside the Pantomime Horse argue and then, inspired by the art show going up around them, they agree to work together
- the Tail of the Pantomime Horse is framed and hung separately from the rest of the costume to create the sense of disjointedness in the production of the play

Work by David Lester includes:
"Inspired Agitators" is a series of posters (or postcard size where space dictates) based on the actions of a selection of international activists whose vision and determination inspire David's music. The series is a focal point in "Inspired Agitators & the Pantomime Horse". The series includes John Heartfield, Jessie Lopez De La Cruz, Lucy Parsons, Emily Wilding Davison, Mordechai Vanunu, Red Cloud, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Nellie McClung, Tommy Douglas, and Paul Robeson. Lester says, "History is embedded with obstacles that must have seemed insurmountable. Yet, again and again, battles are waged in climates of indifference, hostility and brutality. This collection represents inspired moments in history when an Indian Nation wore down the U.S. government, an artist defied the Nazi party, women achieved the right to vote, a socialist government was elected in North America, universal healthcare was implemented, a union for all was organized, a woman was finally accepted legally as a person, a black man fought public lynchings."

David's Inspired Agitators posters are a focal point of the How Art & Music Can Change the World artist talk.

"Storyboard" -- the Pantomime Horse enters an Empty Room in the South of France then separates. The two characters in the play confront each other, immobilized, off track. A third character takes out posters from a portfolio; he hangs them on the wall while the two halves of the horse argue. The posters are miniature versions of "Inspired Agitators". The two halves of the Pantomime Horse are pre-occupied with their problem until they see the art. They stand together and point at the art, smile and put their costume back together -- inspired by the art, they unite in their objective, inspired to work together.
"Noir Canada" by David Lester -- illustrates the diary entries of Canadian Prime Minister MacKenzie King after his visit to Nazi Germany. Noir Canada is digitally printed on 90-lb. acid free paper.

"Murals" by David Lester -- presents an alchemy of observations and philosophies attributed to a stock of characters who opt for a layer of personal distance that ranges from aloof to self-involved oblivion. The men and women of Murals interact face-to-face in a freeze-frame solitude that reflects the lingering disconnect of computer communication. Murals' technosumers infospeak while lusting after logos, but they seem perversely unwilling, or unable, to engage in meaningful discourse. As participants in both the technology and consumer revolutions, their roles in, and obligations to society have been diminished to merely sorting through the glut of shifting concepts that they are confronted by.

"If It's All the Same to You" -- by David Lester is a graphic short story of theatrical production diaster zone, somehow reminiscent of Waiting For Godot gone mad -- published in Bananafish Magazine (San Francisco, November, 2004).

Work by Jean Smith includes:
"Empty Rooms in the South of France" and "Horse & Rider" are two series of paintings in which the subjects are repeated, but unlike a cartoon storyboard moving through time, the viewer is not required to compile information to create meaning. Regardless of their possible interpretations, within the exhibit, the two series represent art without overt messages -- political or otherwise.
The Empty Rooms are based on the work of Pierre Bonnard, the early to mid 20th century French painter who dealt with colour and light. Horse & Rider represent whimsy and childish delight. While painting the two series, Jean pondered the validity of craft versus meaning, "Do people like political art because they agree with the message?" On recent art and music tours, Jean noticed that she and David had inadvertently reversed roles in regard to their visual work. David, the non-verbal member of the duo, utilizes text, while Jean, the singer, tends to work without a language framework. This had Jean wondering, "How is the sense of expectation to create socially useful art affecting my work?"

"Pint Glass" is a series of still-life acrylics on cream velvet. These vibrant and sensuous pieces are based on tradtional flower paintings, inviting comparison to Emile Nolde, with strong impressionist and expressionist tendencies. In this series it is the pint glass the flowers are in that hold the artist's interest. In the last few pieces in the series, the flowers are no longer included. The theme of the series is the process of quitting drinking, but this concept is not integral to appreciating the work.

"Self-Portraits" -- Jean's series of watercolours from age 13 to 44 -- how girls and women view themselves. The series begins with the self-image of an adolescent girl. Smith continues to examine the roles of the female model as subject and artist. The series was exhibited at Vancouver's Western Front and at Ladyfests in Olympia, Los Angeles and Seattle, as well as many one night exhibits across North America on Mecca Normal tours.

Where possible, the exhibit includes a display of handmade books, and CD and LP artwork.

Artist Bios:
David Lester's paintings have been exhibited across North America. His graphic design work has appeared in The Literary Review of Canada, Geist, and BC BookWorld. In 2003, David was the curator of a five-person art show at Word On The Street. David's cartoons introduce a cast of characters who demonstrate the best and the worst of society; they run regularly in the San Diego Reader. His multi-panel Noir Canada -- a cautionary tale of how fascism spreads -- was featured in Broken Pencil, Canada's magazine of underground culture. David is the publisher at Smarten Up! & Get To The Point, a small press devoted to poetry, experimental fiction, politics and artwork by community activists. David lives in Vancouver.

Jean Smith is primarily known as a woman of words in the acclaimed literary rock duo Mecca Normal, and as the author of two published novels. Jean grew up in a house with two painters for parents, where, as a matter of course, she developed a keen visual sense. Painting is an integral component of her creative life, a word-free zone providing balance to her expressive nature. Recent themes in Jean's paintings include alcoholism, how women and girls perceive themselves, and Native land claims issues. Jean's work has been used on book covers, in zines and magazines, and on more than twenty-five CD and 7" covers. Her paintings were shown at the Word On The Street festival's Moat Gallery exhibit. Vancouver Magazine named Jean one of Vancouver's top 50 writers. Her interviews, articles on culture and reviews of books and music have appeared in the Globe & Mail, Raygun, Your Flesh, Review of Contemporary Fiction (Illinois), The Rain (Vancouver) and Sound Collector (New York). She received grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and the B.C. Arts Council to complete her third novel. Jean lives in Vancouver.

To contact the artists email meccanormal@hotmail.com

Jean Smith CV
Jean Smith Paintings

David Lester CV
David Lester Paintings
David Lester Drawings and Design
Article about David Lester's artwork


One of the many highlights of 2004 was the early morning Orientation for Foundation students at Vancouver's Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design -- featuring the "How Art & Music Can Change the World" lecture, a Mecca Normal performance, and the art exhibit and slide show.

But it all started at Xeno Gallery in Vancouver -- March 26 - April 25, 2004. Mecca Normal performed a short set at the opening reception. Since then the exhibit has since toured with Mecca Normal in BC and Washington state. Many of the paintings and posters are still available for sale. Please email for details, prices and for viewing in person or online meccanormal@hotmail.com
May 7 -- Burnaby -- Burnaby Central High School
June 11 -- Vancouver -- The Butchershop Floor
June 17 -- Nelson, BC -- Charlotte's at the David Thompson Cultural Centre
June 18 -- Grand Forks, BC -- Grand Forks Art Gallery
June 19 -- Kaslo, BC -- Crooked Cafe
June 20 -- Kelowna, BC -- Bean Scene
June 21 -- Vernon, BC -- Vernon Public Art Gallery
June 24 - 27 -- Olympia, WA -- exhibit at Bryce's Barber Shop as part of the Olympia Experimental Music Festival
June 27 -- Seattle -- Left Bank Books
July 16 -- Portland -- Disjecta Gallery
July 17 -- Seattle -- Counterfeit Gallery group art show
July 18 -- Anacortes, WA "What the Heck" Festival -- Department of Safety with art by Jean and David in the Absent Album Art Exhibit
July 24 -- Victoria -- Fifty-Fifty Space
July 27 -- Denman Island, BC -- Community Hall
July 28 -- Hornby Island, BC -- Wild Indigo Theatre Summer Production with Sylo
July 29 -- Duncan, BC -- Garage Showroom
July 30 -- Victoria -- Ministry of Casual Living -- 6:30 reception, art show runs until August 5
July, 30 -- Nanaimo, BC -- Dizzy's
July 31 -- Cumberland, BC -- The Abbey
August 2 -- Vancouver -- Cafe Deux Soleil -- Poetry Slam
August 7 -- Vancouver -- Interurban Gallery -- Books to Prisoners Art Auction
September 2 -- Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design -- Orientation for Foundation students, a multi-media Mecca Normal presentation
September 10 - 12 -- Yeah! Fest, Olympia

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