Artist Profile: Benjamine Lester
Benjamine Lester

Thank God for the Internet! 

About ten years ago I and many other artists began to make the transition from showing work primarily in art galleries to exhibiting and selling work on the web. The skillful use of social media has allowed many artists to start exhibiting and selling work to a broader audience. An audience that is not constrained by the tastes and economic restrictions that art galleries traditionally if not arbitrarily created. If it had not been for social sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr I might not have ever had the chance to see Benjamine Lester’s work at all. I first encountered Mr. Lester’s work on Pinterest when I was looking for images of “bears” in art. I was immediately struck by his self-portraits and by the male figures he paints. His work was relevant for me and is relevant for thousands of gay men who identify as “bears.”
Lester’s work from an iconographic point of view is clever, timely, and pleasing to those connoisseurs who enjoy and even desire to see images of nonstandard male beauty. The large hairy fleshy men key documents often are the inhabitants of barbershops, surreal spaces, and the sexual fantasies of many of the men that I know and care about. Lester seems to document of culture and point in time that is becoming more and more accepted and popular by gay culture and even mainstream culture that overlooks the homoerotic component and can often referred to the men he paints as “beardos” and “lumbersexuals.”  His images can be confused for straight cultures embracing of hipster culture, because his figures are so hip.  I’ve seen Lester’s art shared on many Pinterest boards.  Lester’s paintings are usually on boards that embrace bearded culture. For example, his painting “Straight Razor” is a snapshot of a handsome man in a barber chair being shaved with a straight razor. It’s almost as if it’s an image out of a magazine discussing the new hip culture surrounding barbershops and the care of beards on handsome men. It’s the relevance of his content that adds to Benjamine Lester’s appeal.
There’s a new culture emerging throughout the world that embraces beards, heavy fleshy men often who are hairy, and the idea of openness to different kinds of physical attraction. If one were to look through fashion magazines and gay publications from even 10 years ago the preponderance of young, thin, washboard abbed, men made the majority of advertisements and fashion layouts as a sort of heteronormative or stereotype of what was beautiful for men. Lately there’s been a lot more freedom and acceptance of all body types and ages in the gay community as well as in the fashion industry. I think reality is setting and it’s giving permission for people to find or express their attraction to men who don’t fit the previous stereotype. Lester who is one of these men is embracing this in his art going so far as to paint him and his partner has the new standard for sex symbols in art and he acknowledges this in paintings like “Caped Nude,” in which the subject is literally a hero.

His many portraits and self-portraits explore the concept of identity, which is always relevant for artist but at this point in time it’s even more relevant for gay men who are out, don’t fit the stereotype that was previously sold to gay men as the ideal of beauty, and many who are starting to age. He explores who these people are in a sympathetic, compassionate, and culturally relevant way. He expresses empathy in that people like myself can find images of attractive men who look like me in Lester’s paintings. For example, he tenderly approaches the idea of relationships in his “Morning Coffee,” and “Love on the Beach” types of image that was hard to find for gay couples in the past.

If you think about it, Benjamine Lester works in the tradition of some very good Baroque painters such as Caravaggio and Velasquez. If you compare his composition, color, and tenebrism it is very similar to Caravaggio’s painting “The Calling of St. Matthew.”  The chiaroscuro in morning coffee owes quite a bit to the tradition that Caravaggio established in his work. Even the character of St. Matthew resembles some of the people in Lester’s paintings. His paintings are also skillfully executed. The formal qualities of chiaroscuro (the depiction of light and shadow) anatomy and rendering are evidenced fully in his work. He works in a traditional Renaissance technique that starts with the careful and detailed drawing. Progresses to an underpainting often in monochromatic values and then glazed carefully in successive layers to build up the surface. Although a self-trained painter, Lester has been able to master some very traditional techniques and show that he’s able to compete with so-called classically trained artists. Another important strength of his.
There aren’t many contemporary painters whose work is as relevant and well-crafted as Benjamine Lester’s art. Lester’s work is placed perfectly in today’s context, where art needs to be accessible and pertinent to an audience who has been underrepresented in the past. The subject matter fits in with the pulse of today and is aimed directly at an audience who recognizes themselves and sees the work is important. The skillful rendering and understanding of technique give Benjamine Lester’s work the authority that the subject matter deserves.

A book about Lester's work is coming out soon.

See more of his work on his site:

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