Exploring the Magical Symbolism in Art and Daily Life: Trinity Lester

Trinity Lester is an artist and curator based in Brooklyn, New York who recently graduated with a BA from Columbia University in Art History and Visual Arts. Her practice focuses largely on exploring the magical symbolism that is embedded in every aspect of daily life through colorful interactions of pigments and layered drawing. Each painting and print works to immerse the audience into her visualizations of certain feelings, parts of her personal history, and sensory experiences. Most recently, she has been working through the mediums of watercolor painting, color pencil, and soft sculpture.

O: When did you begin creating art? 

Trinity Lester: A common answer, I’m sure, but I have truly been creating art since before I can remember. I was really into making things as a kid and have always been obsessed with colors. The first real artistic project that I worked on was probably my AP portfolio in high school. 

O: Is there an artist that you look up to, whether it be someone who motivated you to begin drawing or someone whose work inspires you today? 

T: My first love was art history, so a large part of my practice is inspired by my favorite artists who I have found throughout my time creating. That is to say, the ones who most directly influence my work are probably Hilma af Klint, Agnes Martin, and Louise Bourgeois: the first artists I really committed to thinking about when I wrote my thesis [Navigating the Sublime, the Spiritual, and the Self: A Reconsideration of the Grid through the work of Agnes Martin, Hilma af Klint, and Louise Bourgeois]. Beyond them, there are always a collection of artists floating around in the back of my mind and I think my work is usually in conversation with whatever I have seen in person or online recently. 

Outside of art history, however, I think some of my favorite artists (and those who inspired me to start and keep drawing) have been animators. Whenever I am in need of inspiration I go to animation to help me find my way back to world-building. Recently, I have been revisiting Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises and Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Nobody creates magic quite like those two studios :-).

O: If you had to describe your work in three words, what would they be and why? 

T: Vibrant, because I try my best to make the colors deep and pure.

Coded, because a lot of secret messages are hidden in the details and only able to be seen in person (song lyrics, astrological placements, journaling, names, etc.).

Whimsical, because I love this word and I have so much fun making art, and I always want my art to feel as fun and emotional as it was to make it.

O: What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

T: The part after I’ve decided that I actually don’t hate the work and can’t wait for it to be finished. OR the part where I finally finish and realize how grateful I am to be able to use art as a way to express myself. However, most of the creative process is usually sitting and staring, just waiting for a color or detail to come to me.

O: How has the pandemic changed your workflow? 

T: The pandemic turned my art practice in a bunch of different directions. I started out as a student and a printmaker primarily, with full access to the print shop. Now, I am in a studio (finally :-)) but primarily working in painting and sculpture. I think out of necessity the pandemic has made me try a little bit of everything and, overall, I am grateful that I’ve always found a way to continue making things.

O: Your work is vibrant, colorful, and bursting with detail. Where does your inspiration come from? 

T: So many places! A lot of the details in my work come from feelings, people, words, shapes and the colors that I associate with them. I always start with a baseline of drawing and then build up the detail from there. I am constantly trying to complicate the space by adding layers and new additions in text or doodles. The deeper that the work gets the more I enjoy it and enjoy looking at it because every detail is personal.

I appreciate when people try to take the time to decode my work, or question why certain things end up the way that they do and I am always so happy to talk about it. There are a large collection of symbols that I have adopted (from astrology, tarot, and my daily life) but there are also many that I have invented from constantly working on the code of my work.

O: What is your favorite piece of work so far and why is it your favorite?

T: My favorite piece of work right now is my fabric dolls that link together to form a mutable spine. I love their organic shape and their soft comforting material. Each pink fabric spine is stuffed with fluff and various herbs that are historically associated with alleviating back pain. The only way to know however is when they hit the light or if you smell them (and they smell really nice <3). Right now, there are 8 hanging in the studio but I have a feeling that there are going to be many more because I love sewing them.

This work goes in tandem with a collection of digital paintings that I have been doing to keep track of my pain levels throughout my scoliosis treatment. I love those because they are a beautiful log of such a fleeting and negative experience. I am also working on some watercolor paintings but I have a love/hate relationship with them.

O: What was the best part about studying at Columbia University?

T: The best parts were the people I met there, working at the LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies, and learning more about the things that I love. I was very lucky to be surrounded by a great group of people that always uplifted me and kept me going and I am grateful for the three and a half in-person years that I got with them.

O: Tell us more about the thesis you wrote for Columbia University.

T: My thesis tied together the artists Agnes Martin, Hilma af Klint, and Louise Bourgeois through the use of the grid as an organizational structure in select works of theirs. It was less of a historical connection and more of a conceptual project based on an emotional and spiritual throughline that existed in their creative processes! It is 61 pages long, around ~14,600 words, and by far my favorite thing I have ever written.  

O: What was your experience as a Student Printmaker at the LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies?

T: I worked at LNCPS near the end of my time at Columbia and my experience there was really what made my time at school so enjoyable. With a great group of artists and printmakers, I worked on professional fine art printing projects and helped to maintain the print shop. I was constantly learning something new and the people I worked with were always giving me a new outlook on what it means to make a print. I loved it!

O: At Project Gallery V, you’ve provided artists from all over the world with a platform to showcase their work. How important is it for you as co-director for this project?

T: Project Gallery V is an extremely important part of my life that I was brought into by my friend and former co-worker Cary Hulbert. After working at LNCPS, she had this idea for an online gallery space and we have taken it to a whole new level. The best part about the project is being able to have a platform that allows artists to gain more exposure easily and at a low-cost to themselves. Additionally, every exhibition that we showcase includes a combination of professionally printed editions alongside emerging artists from all over the world. The fact that it is so uniquely online is what allows us to show these artists together with ease (which brings me a lot of joy). And, I am always happy to support the work of printmakers because I am obsessed with multiples. 

O: Being a curator, you must be coming across many pieces of artwork regularly. Are there some pieces of work that have moved you? If yes, why?

T: Constantly! The work that is most beautiful to me is the kind that moves me to feel. I am always being moved by the work of others and try my best to pour my emotions into my own art. Seeing the world through the eyes of someone else is so often an emotional experience and that is essentially the task that we take up when we attempt to read into art. One of the reasons that I love art so much is because of its capacity to inspire feeling and whenever I am reminded of that it is always a special moment. 

O: If you could give new artists some advice from what you’ve learned, what would it be?

T: Simply, do what makes you happy. If you try drawing, and it isn’t fun, it is time for you to start printmaking. If you try painting, and you don’t like it, don’t force it. The best work that you will make is the kind that makes you feel fulfilled. I try my best to remember this advice but it’s not always easy! 

O: Do you have any upcoming projects that we should look out for? 

T: I am curating a show with my co-founder, Cary Hulbert (@cary_hulbert), this coming June on Project Gallery V (@projectgalleryv) and we are always doing new, cool things there! Other than that I am always making new things on @triiinity.lester on Instagram.

So many kudos to Trinity for taking some time out of her incredibly busy schedule to chat with us about her creative process and exciting new projects! Stay up to date on Trinity’s latest artistic endeavors by checking out her aforementioned Instagram or visiting her website (www.trinitylester.com/)!