Lester Magoogan can produce up to 200 pieces of art in a week, not all of it is exhibition quality but each piece represents 36-year-old Lester’s unique perspective and it comes from what mum Marion and dad Wesley describe as ‘Lester’s world’.
Lester was in his mid-teens before he discovered his artistic side and it was Billy Connolly who provided the inspiration that first kicked off Lester’s prolific career as an artist. Connolly was interviewing an old man, a painter, who was talking about the importance of trying to maintain a childlike perspective to your art and how difficult that was to do. From then on Wesley encouraged his son to start sharing his drawings with the outside world.
It was a proud moment for the Magoogan family earlier this week when they packed up a batch of Lester’s work to send off for exhibition at the Paralym Art World Cup in Tokyo, representing a new high in the young artist’s career.
Inspiration for his drawing comes from everywhere; film, TV, radio and just watching people go about their everyday business. Lester takes it all in and then later – sometimes much later – he will come up with a unique piece of art inspired by what he has seen. Lester has Downs Syndrome but has never let that be a hinderance. His first exhibition was in Pisarro’s in Hastings and you can see his work today and every day in a special collection at Respire Living in George Street.
Along the way though Lester has exhibited his work in some of the world’s most famous galleries including the Tate Modern on three occasions, The Lowry in Manchester, the Oxo Gallery in London, The Dragon Bar in Shoreditch (and The Dragon Bar in Hastings old town) and in galleries overseas including Prague, Hong Kong and the US. He has been featured on TV and attracted the attention of the famous.
Spike Milligan said: “Lester’s drawings show his keen sense of humour – his minimalist approach goes to show that less is more.” While George Melly said of his work: “…having no training there is an immediacy that many great artists have sought within themselves, but few achieve.”
Other famous admirers of Lester’s work include Sir Peter Blake who created the artwork for the Beatles’ album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Jamie Hewlett who produces artwork for The Gorillaz.
His reputation is truly worldwide and when an illustration was required for a T-shirt that commemorates those who died in the Collumbine Massacre, organisers came to Lester to create something unique for their cause.
Although Lester only started drawing in his teens as a child he would cut up cardboard boxes and use them to make models and figures. Over the years he has combined his modelling with his art and has created pieces of art in three dimension and has also worked with Wesley on animation and between them they have made several short films.
He works two days a week at Friary Gardens, run by the Parchment Trust, when he is there Lester gets involved in any kind of artistic activity including modelling with clay, mosaic and wood carving. Marion says her son’s hand and eye coordination is highly developed and he can turn his hand to almost any kind of artistic endeavour.
For his principal pieces, the drawings that have made him famous, Lester works in Japanese Ink, if you make a mistake you can’t rub it out so there are two options, scrap it and start again or to go on and incorporate the error into the artwork and that is Lester’s preferred option, “he never throws anything away,” says Wesley.
Lester’s art is a labour of love for the family. From his prolific output just a few meet the exacting standards he demands for the work he puts on display to the public. Marion says the family will sit down together and go through what Lester has produced and together they come up with the titles for each piece, the title being as short and to the point as the drawings themselves.
When inspiration strikes Lester has to get his ideas down on paper and if that means interrupting a session on his PlayStation then that’s what has to happen. Equally Lester is just as happy to break away from a drawing half-way through and will come back to it the next day and finish it off.
A former pupil of Glynne Gap School Lester was the first person in the country to receive a Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Award for Young People back in 2000, something he still cherishes today.
He’s a patron of The Chestnut Tree, a charity that helps terminally ill children, and he uses his art as a vehicle to raise money for them.
The Tokyo exhibition is the biggest international event so far that Lester’s work has been part of. Lester’s art is unique and very personal to the artist, he says his characters “come alive” in his head and when you ask him about his inspiration pointing to his head he says, “it’s all in here.”
Despite the international acclaim and the exhibitions of his art around the world Lester’s favourite exhibition is one very close to home at the Kipling ward at the Conquest Hospital which is where children are treated. The Kipling ward has a range of Lester’s work always on display. Children who come in to hospital feeling afraid or unhappy are cheered up by seeing Lester’s characters, “…some start smiling or laughing when they see my art. It cheers them up and I feel great that my art can help people to be happy,” he says.
When you ask Lester to sum up his work, he comes straight to the point: “It shows the world is a funny place to be in, most of the time.”
Here is a link to a video Lester made, asking the question ‘what would happen if your office building overslept?’
And here is a short documentary that was made 12 years ago about Lester..