"In The Studio With:..." is a weekly feature that takes us into the private creative spaces of emerging artists to discuss their work and career.
Sitting down to discuss art with Lester Rapaport is like falling down a Wikipedia rabbit hole. You begin easily enough discussing simple questions of art making, and very quickly realize that you are actually talking about matters of literally universal importance. But even if no words are exchanged at all, to stand in front of one of Lester's canvases is to catch a glimpse of a higher, more profound existence. Over the course of five decades, his work has been informed by a life spent seeking peace, struggling for understanding and finally attaining some measure of true enlightenment.
Lester will be presenting one of his earlier works on paper during our "Life Sized II" invitational exhibition this August.
Anthony Philip Fine Art: You have been painting for almost five decades. How have you seen your work change stylistically or thematically over the course of your career.
Lester Rapaport: My painting teacher at Hunter College Tony Smith, suggested using house painter brushes and working the whole painting at once – not starting with a detail and building one detail after another. I think this began my understanding of seeing the space of the canvas as an almost cosmic stage. Ralph Humphrey was my life drawing teacher and he taught me the complexity and beauty of line. Drawing had been my first love and what I learned in his classes has permeated my work in everyone of my many different explorations and changes of visual vocabulary.
As as student I painted figuratively until the last semester of graduate school. I had an immediate affinity to Matisse and the Fauves and will never forget the first time I saw Matisse’s The Dance at MoMA. Wayne Thiebold was the other artist who had a primary hold in my imagination. When my explorations into figurative painting began to feel academic and dry I painted my first abstract painting: a two foot yellow square centered on a six by six foot white ground. It was my letter A in learning about abstract painting.
APFA: What do you want to achieve with your painting as you go forward?
LR: I remember as a young art student confronting Rembrandt’s late self-portrait at the Met and thinking: here is a picture that speaks across approximately 4 centuries. I saw in it lived experience, compassion, and wisdom and it was a marker for a life well lived. What if I could make something that 4 centuries from now would be that kind of marker for some young person; a document in a contemporary idiom inspiring someone in the future with what I have understood.
APFA: In your "Stillpoint" series, there is a very rhythmic and deliberate quality to the composition. Could you please discuss the impetus for this series?
LR: Because I had already painted very complex multi-layered paintings, I was able to allow myself to simplify with confidence. In 2004 during a meditation, the image of what became the Stillpoint series composition came into my consciousness. The 2 sets of parallel lines equidistant from the central dot was so satisfying that I used this composition for 4 years. These works have a quiet expansiveness when surrendering to them very much like a meditation experience. The sets of parallel lines creates an attentiveness and anchoring, also very much as in meditation.
In 2008 my mother died unexpectedly. I stopped the Stillpoint paintings and began my “Grief and After” paintings. I allowed myself the space of the studio to grieve. After 5 years the vocabulary that had evolved with these paintings became something else: a celebration of spirit; a mirror of self; science fiction futuristic cosmic haiku poetry.
APFA: Could you talk about some of the artists who have had an influence on your work or who have inspired you?
LR: Over the years I have found much art that has inspired me that I have not mentioned: Morris Louis, Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Motherwell, Philip Guston, Adolph Gottlieb, Pat Steir, and Howard Hodgkin.
APFA: What do you hope people take away from your paintings?
LR: My paintings of the past several years have, I hope, the drama associated with live theatre, as well as the passion of a well sung aria; the way it gets right into your inner being and wakes it up. More and more I see my work as mapping my inner spiritual journey.
If you'd like to find out more about Lester and his art, please visit: lesterrapaport.com