The painting “Persephone 6” tells a tale of profound female entrapment. Persephone, daughter of Demeter, the goddess of plenty and growth, is kidnapped by Hades, the god of the underworld. Distraught to distraction, Demeter causes all growth in the natural world to halt. Zeus decides action must be taken, telling Persephone that if she has eaten nothing in the underworld, she will be released. Unfortunately, she has already consumed six pomegranate seeds, poignantly rendered on Lester’s canvas with six small misshapen red forms. As a result, she must now return to Hades for six months
every year, thus establishing our seasons of darkness. Persephone, like the artist’s other women, lacks control over her fate. Here, her giant weary eyes and furrowed brow belie her youth. Her starkly delineated features and bold fields of color recall Picasso’s strikingly expressive female faces.
Just as Persephone’s ingestion of six pomegranate seeds determines her fate, those who drink from the River Lethe, the river of Oblivion in the Underworld, lose any memory of themselves or their lives. Lethe, the personification of Oblivion and sister of Death and Sleep in Greek myth, gave her name to the Underworld river. What you imbibe has profound ramifications. In Lester’s painting, Lethe’s glazed and hollow eyes are the result of “drinking to oblivion.” She has escaped the pain of this world at the price of losing the truth of herself. The naked figure to her right, with its graphic depiction of bones and organs, represents the reality of the body and the presence of physical memory.
In “Mill Valley is Pregnant (Hera and Alcmene)” the artist alludes to the modern self-centered parent who seeks pregnancy not out of true desire to have a child, but as a means to narcissistic achievement. Lester also points to the soullessness inherent in such a pursuit, with marriage leading only to adultery and endless squabbling. In the painting, the figures of Hera and Zeus represent partners in a decaying marriage in which the wife sees her husband only as a means to wealth and conception, her anchorless fear, anxiety and rage directed at other women. The man sees the female only as sexual object and vessel. Zeus’ wife, Hera, the overpowering pink figure with smirking garish red lips, is vengeful and bitter about his adultery. The armless red woman, Alcmene, on the right carries the child of her lover Zeus, represented by the purple, faceless head at the left. Hera’s arm encircles Alcmene menacingly, all her creative powers focusing on harming the unborn child who threatens her self-image. Alcmene’s pregnant belly and her armless, legless inability to move illustrate generations of women perpetuating the same behavior. Zeus’s crown exemplifies money and power, the “tools” for childrearing in an affluent culture. His disembodied genitals provide the means to conceive, but he literally lacks a heart and body to care for his children. The children become pawns in a struggle for dominance and social status.