Benjamine Lester brings passion to his male portraits
RICH LOPEZ | Staff writer
Last year, Benjamine Lester went all in on his craft. He gave up his full-time job to become a full-time artist, and, soon after, he made a splash at Texas Bear Round-up’s vendor market. His portraits of men — usually furry and/or beefy — attracted many eyes but also many buyers.
Lester returns this year to the market which opened Thursday and runs through Sunday at Hyatt Regency Dallas during TBRU 27.
“That was my first TBRU, and it was my most successful part of the year,” Lester said by phone. “I am hoping for a repeat, but my technical narrative is different this time.”
He’s approached this year with a different mindset. Last year, he was working hastily to finish his paintings in one session each. By taking time for his newest paintings, he says his works will look and feel richer.
“I got to go back through and add layers of depth, and they look different,” Lester said.
Last year, his portraits told stories of Norse myths. He shifted gears for his newest works. His newest pieces have given some focus to leather wear which he’s presenting at TBRU.
“I know people in the leather community, and I started exploring the idea of how a costume can make you feel more like yourself — a costume completing one’s identity,” he explained. “I’ve been in the bear community, and there is an overlap of those communities, but I kept it to my understanding of things while not having it too contrived.”
If it wasn’t for events like TBRU, Lester’s story may be a bit different. One of the challenges he’s faced is merely getting his work seen. And with art that leans erotic and, you know, gay, the space for showing his work is limited.
And he’s also not the biggest fan of the gallery system to begin with.
“Well, giving up 50 percent [of sales] can hit hard, but when I’ve dealt with galleries before, they’ve often hidden my art. These are my babies, and so it has been hard to break into a larger art market,” Lester said. “People can’t get over that hump of a male gaze on a male figure and make it overtly sexual.
“I don’t want to stray far from marketability, but I want to be true to what I create. I paint portraits of muscley men, and I’m passionate about that. I’m glad for events like TBRU and Dallas Pride where I can show my works.”
A critic referred to Lester’s art as “Tom of Finland meets Caravaggio.” At first, he wasn’t feeling it.
“I thought ‘How dare you refer to my work as derivative,’” he said with a laugh. “Then I realized, that’s fair. They are both influences.”
Lester has a three-step process before beginning his works. He has his models come in for a color study to get an idea of flesh tones. He follows with a quick sketch of their poses. Then he takes photographs to reference while painting.
Ironically, Lester describes himself as an introvert, and social interaction isn’t always the most fun for him. He says being an artist is good for him because there is a lot of time alone.
So how does he bridge that with the difficult task of interacting with hunky models?
“When I know I’m going to interact with people, I have to energize myself,” he said. “I have, like, this social reservoir, and once it’s empty, I can just go home and lay down. But they know it will be a fun time, and it is for me, too.”
Lester doesn’t just do this particular type of portraiture. He’s been commissioned to do wedding portraits and children’s portraits, and he recently did portraits of his own dogs that passed.
But his passion for reflecting masculinity in his own way is paramount.
“I wanted to paint men, but I thought I wasn’t supposed to. When I dove in, I wanted to create these positive aspects of masculinity that are creative and compassionate,” Lester said. “It’s a lot of fun when I see people in person at TBRU, and they respond to my work.”
The TBRU vendor market at the Hyatt Regency Dallas opens at 11 a.m. Friday and Saturday and at 9 a.m. Sunday. Follow Benjamine Lester on Instagram at @BenjamineLesterArt or visit his website at Lester-Art.com.
TBRU 27 at a glance
Texas Bear Round-up 27 is already underway, but that doesn’t mean you’ve missed out. Registrants can still participate in several social and centerpiece events, and non-registrants can visit the vendor market at the host hotel and dance all night at Friday’s BearDance.
Here are some select events from TBRU’s weekend schedule. All events are for registrants at the Hyatt Regency Dallas host hotel unless otherwise noted.
• 11 a.m. — Registration and guest services
• Noon — Texas Food Tour
• 2:30 p.m. — Game Show: Bears Bingo with Sister Helen Holy
• 8 p.m. — BearDance: Angels and Demons at Station 4. Open to the public with ticket purchase.
• 11:15 a.m. — Bear Yoga with Christopher Gonzalez La Corte
• 5 p.m. — TBRU Family Dinner
• 6 p.m. — Mr. TBRU Contest and Mini-Underwear Auction
• 8 p.m. — Guy Branum
• 9:45 p.m. — Hospitality Jockstrap and Harness Night
• 11 a.m. — TBRU Big Texas BBQ and Closing Ceremony at the Round-Up Saloon
• 3 p.m. — TBRU Church at Hidden Door. Open to the public.
• 4 p.m. — DirtyPop Dance Party at the Round-Up Saloon. Open to the public.
For a full schedule of events and more information about TBRU, visit TBRU.org
To View full gallery, click here.