Ao Dai and Mobiles

Following John’s visit to the Fine Arts Museum in Ha Noi where he saw numerous images, past and present of women in Ao Dai, John set himself to paint a contemporary, semi-abstract picture of women wearing Ao Dai (traditional Vietnamese dress). However, he wanted to give the picture a mark in time as he realised that even a modern style painting could have been painted perhaps any time in the last fifty or so years. Two shop assistants busy on their mobiles gave John his ‘mark in time’.

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Ao Dai and Mobiles

Oil on canvas, 45 x 60cm

Construction, Ha Noi

Over the years John has visited Café Lam, in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, on a number of occasions. Initially he was drawn to the café as it has a rich collection of paintings by Vietnamese artists hung on the walls and was once a place for artists to gather.

Since he began his business back in the 1950’s, the owner of Café Lam, Nguyen Van Lam, built up a collection of artwork from impoverished clients who exchanged their paintings for coffee and conversation. The paintings on the café’s walls add to the café’s sense of nostalgia.

On Café Lam’s website, it is mentioned that Nguyen Van Lam regrets the destruction of the old buildings in Hanoi to make way for new developments. And suggests that the devastation caused by the American bombs in the Vietnam (American) War was not as great as the destruction of old Hanoi by the wrecking ball of redevelopment.

Hanoi has changed dramatically in recent years. Things rarely stay the same, even Café Lam has changed. But the recent change in Hanoi has been quite amazing. Building has gone on at a staggering pace, and mostly upwards! And the painting Construction, Ha Noi, which was partly inspired by the writings of Nguyen Van Lam and his café, reflects on this. The woman on the bicycle represents the past and behind her the vast overpowering dominance of the construction of a tower block. In the distance you can see cranes and a skyline of old Hanoi, with tower blocks further behind.

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Oil on canvas, 25 x 35cm

Caged Songbird

The bird in the picture looks in hope beyond its cage - perhaps into the caged world of us all?

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Caged Songbird

Oil on canvas, 60 x 60cm

One of the most striking things John first noticed about the buildings in Ha Noi, was that most of them had iron bars on all the windows and doors. He noticed too, the numerous caged songbirds and through the creation of Caged Songbird set to draw a comparison of the caged songbird with the perhaps caged world we all live in. The painting, Spring, inspired by a visit to Thanh Chuong’s Viet Palace, has similar thoughts to that of Caged Songbird behind its creation too.

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OIl on canvas, 50 x 65cm

Art Review by Luz Marina Aguzzoli

Review of John Lester's artwork by Italian Art Blogger, Luz Marina Aguzzoli – see website:

Wake Up! Can't You See.

This collaborative piece of mixed media artwork was produced in response to John's thoughts about his daughter’s future. The work illustrates a poem John wrote about equality called 'Wake Up!'

For the main focus of this triptych John used a photograph of his daughter when she was a few months old. When John's daughter was given the photographs of her to paint and draw on they were pristine and all started off almost identical. John's daughter enjoyed making marks on these photographs and she made some efforts not to draw on herself, though on one she drew on her face. One of the triptych’s images was stuck on hardboard, the others on cardboard.  At first John wanted all the images to be stuck onto the same surface, but it became clear that as work progressed, that it did not matter what the images were stuck on, as he realised that the artwork was guided by chance, much like life, and that the process was part of the artwork itself. John could not control his daughter’s efforts and accepted this, even though he did try to control the outcome on occasions.