Lester Coloma (Canadian-Filipino) is a Hamilton-based artist and muralist. After starting out over thirty years ago as a painter studying at OCAD, becoming a street artist in Hamilton making outdoor art in the evenings, while pursuing a day job as a scenic painter for film and prop companies, his career contributions as Senior Designer and Painter encompass over 100 large-scale murals across North America.
Masquerade, 2020, is designed specifically for the AGH lobby. A lush, rich, and wholly engaging portrait, its meaning is equally abundant and involving. On the one hand, we experience a dramatic, over life-size figure seemingly overwhelmed by the vivid flora that occupies half the composition. But the sheer beauty and splendor of the mural belies a much more complex and timely origin story.
“In thinking about my own mental health, and that of my family and friends, I realized what a dense and deep situation we can find ourselves in. Imagery that is often used to represent depression or anxiety usually involves negativity, darkness, a person in isolation or despair, in jail or surrounded by barbed wire.” – Lester Coloma
We now see how the plants serve as an organic representation of the subject’s mental health. Each leaf can be an issue that a person may struggle with. Our mental health is complex, delicate, and organic, with personal, political, cultural, and social issues often entangled. With conditions interwoven and often difficult to separate, it can be challenging to view each part on its own. To see the forest for the trees. And this is often overwhelming, much as the sitter is here being subsumed. Yet despite this chaotic predicament, she steadfastly holds her gaze, and ours. She has control and power.
Coloma looks to present beauty amid struggle, something positive so that viewers may be able to recognize issues with a sense of normalcy and even vibrancy – to point out that many of us suffer from mental health issues and they need not be stigmatized.
In generating a positive approach to mental health awareness, Coloma felt that “dark imagery focuses too much on the problem and not enough on the person as an individual. Navigating through a lush, dense, and intricate forest with flowering plants became less daunting for me than traversing a war zone. In trying to understand my own situation, I have seen the paths to dark corners and I can now empathize with those who turn to them.”
Coloma’s work is a newly commissioned mural for the AGH lobby. The work will be in progress from November 19 through December 6, then on view through 2021.
The artist will be present at the Gallery for the launch of AGH Family Day, November 29, and will be on hand to mark the completion of the work for December Free Friday on December 4.
Lead image: Lester Coloma, digital mock-up: Masquerade, 2020. Image courtesy of the artist.
Follow along on social using #AGHMasquerade