Art Gallery Proposal


"Pussy Riot" (20 x 20" acrylic on canvas) by Jean Smith of Mecca Normal at The Black Dot Museum of Political Art at Northern: the Olympia All Ages Project for the month of September, 2012.

Jean Smith & David Lester Posted by Hello


"Playbill" by David Lester
May, 2005


My name is David Lester. I am a visual artist and the guitar player in the duo Mecca Normal. The enclosed CD-R contains a proposal for our two-person exhibit "Inspired Agitators & the Pantomime Horse", art images, CVs, an Artist Statement, and web links.

The show was up for a month in the spring of 2004 at Vancouver's Xeno Gallery, which the Globe & Mail says -- "exhibits works by exciting emerging artists." Throughout the summer, my creative partner Jean Smith and I, toured the exhibit in BC and Washington state. We booked ourselves into art galleries, classrooms and music festivals, hanging the 100+ piece exhibit in the late afternoon, setting up a small sound system and presenting our artists' talk "How Art & Music Can Change the World". Highlights of the tours were the Vernon Public Art Gallery, Grand Forks Art Gallery and the Cumberland Art Centre on Vancouver Island.

"Inspired Agitators and the Pantomime Horse" is an art exhibit about a play. The play explores the production of art with political content -- moving a concept into production, from vision to presentation. Limitations. Folly. The horse represents creative freedom and imagination. The Pantomime Horse is the duo in collaboration -- alternately arguing and working together. Tension. Rebellion. Unison.

The reaction to our event was excellent. In the accompanying information, we are submitting a proposal for the exhibit to be shown, with or without the Artists' Talk and/or Mecca Normal performance.

Jean and I have a long history of co-ordinating music, poetry and art events
in conjunction with other artists involved in creating social change. As Mecca Normal, we have done thousands of interviews in which we've discussed the importance of underground culture. Now we're presenting this content, along with a behind-the-scenes look at our 20-year D-I-Y collaboration, as an Artists' Talk.

If I can add anything to this information in email or by phone, please feel free to contact me. Jean and I are very excited about the possibility of presenting our exhibit.

David Lester


Jean Smith
David Lester

Art Exhibit: "Inspired Agitators and the Pantomime Horse"

Artists' Talk: "How Art and Music Can Change the World" -- interviews, artwork, reviews


Title of Show: "Inspired Agitators & the Pantomime Horse"

Media: acrylic on canvas, giclee prints, acrylic on paper, mixed media

Brief description of proposal: "Inspired Agitators & the Pantomime Horse" is an art exhibit about a play. The play explores the production of art with political content -- moving a concept into production, from vision to presentation. Limitations. Folly. The horse represents creative freedom and imagination. The Pantomime Horse is the duo in collaboration -- alternately arguing and working together. Tension. Rebellion. Unison.

The art exhibit is ideally viewed as a linear stage play with beginning and end points. Static images form a flexible narrative which can be derived from the physical linearity of the exhibit.

All subject matter is appropriate for a public, multi-use venue. All artwork is original and is the sole creation of the two artists. Artwork will be displayed in a professional manner.

Jean and David will install and uninstall the exhibit where possible. The touring exhibit is also available as a box show with simple installation instructions.

"Inspired Agitators & the Pantomime Horse" opened at Vancouver's Xeno Gallery (March 25 to April 26, 2004). The exhibit then toured with Mecca Normal in BC and Washington state (May - September, 2004). The reaction to the event was extremely positive.

The Inspired Agitators website outlines the intentions of the exhibit, details of tours, bios, and a link to the art as it appears in a gallery.

Jean Smith and David Lester have 20 years experience booking and promoting music, art and literary events across North America.

Where possible, Mecca Normal would perform at an opening reception which could also include an artists' talk.

Artist Talk: Jean and David speak about the art "Inspired Agitators and the Pantomime Horse" -- and the idea of the play that the exhibit represents. The creation of art and music with political content is discussed -- motivation, inspiration, and the importance of underground culture. David's political art, which utilizes text, is compared to Jean's expressionist tendency. Jean and David intend to inspire both creative and political self-expression by relating the philosophies that propel their 20-year partnership in art, music and the publishing handmade books of political graphics, poetry and fiction created by community activists.

David and Jean consider the self-management of their enterprises to be part of their creative collaboration. Referring to behind-the-scenes workings, they illustrate the reality of being artists and cultural activists.

Jean says, "Mecca Normal has done thousands of radio and print media interviews about cultural, political and social issues. Now we're presenting this content in the form of a talk at our events."

Click here for more information on the Artist Talk -- "How Art and Music Can Change the World" website

References available on request.


Internationally, David Lester and Jean Smith are best known for their work as Mecca Normal. The Vancouver-based guitar and voice duo has released 11 CDs of dynamic music and powerful lyrics that deal with social issues. Guitar-player David Lester is a well-respected visual artist with 25 years experience. Singer Jean Smith, a painter and graphic designer, is the author of two published novels. Jean and David have a long history of co-ordinating events with artists determined to create social change.

"Inspired Agitators and the Pantomime Horse" is an art exhibit about a play. The play explores the production of art with political content -- moving a concept into production, from vision to presentation. Limitations. Folly. The horse represents creative freedom and imagination. The Pantomime Horse is the duo in collaboration -- alternately arguing and working together. Tension. Rebellion. Unison.

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

The 'play' begins; 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?

Click here to see a selection of art from beginning to end:

- stressed-out playwright
- playwright's heroic ambition for the play
- the playbill
- thespians awaiting direction
- conflict visualized
- 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 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 45 -- 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.

Click here to see examples from the Pint Glass series and Self-Portraits

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."

Click here to see a selection of posters from: Inspired Agitators

"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.

Click here to see: Noir Canada

"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).

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

David Lester:

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 co-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.

David Lester's: CV

Jean Smith:
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. She is a two-time Canada Council for the Arts award recipient as a professional writer of creative fiction and a B.C. Arts Council grant recipient. Jean lives in Vancouver. 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).

Jean Smith's: CV

November 2004   May 2005   August 2012  

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