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Drawings by Leigh Anne Lester

Institute of Texan Cultures' Texas Contemporary Artists Series opens July 18

By James M. Benavides
Public Affairs Specialist

(July 17, 2009)--The Institute of Texan Cultures will display drawings by Leigh Anne Lester from July 18 to Oct. 25 as part of the ongoing Texas Contemporary Artists Series. UTSA curator Arturo Almeida says Lester's work is inspired by flora that defines the Texas landscape.

>> The exhibit is free and open to the public. An opening reception, hosted by UTSA President Ricardo Romo and Dr. Harriett Romo, is 5:30-7:30 p.m., Thursday, July 23.

"The complexity and beauty in her art is both a reminder of the awe-inspiring wonder that is life and a premonition of the consequences of altering nature," said Almeida in his curator's statement.

The exhibition work also was inspired by Mary Shelley's novel "Frankenstein" in which unknown powers are explored, and when unfolded to the world reveal "the deepest mysteries of creation." Lester's art addresses the place between the genesis of genetic modification and its aftereffects. She wants the viewer to consider all possible outcomes of introducing new species, from upsetting the natural balance to successfully creating new species.

The drawings in the exhibition are composed of multiple layers of semi-transparent Mylar with an historical botanical image drawn or cut on each layer. The transparency of each sheet allows the line of each botanical to blend into the next layer, as if a new species had been engineered from a variety of plants. The titles of Lester's works combine the scientific names of the plant species presented, resulting in pieces such as "Lavalathdactsempndulyrusylorerviahizavuma Stoetubemacutectchasrosulataorum."

Sculpturally, Lester has recreated the notorious Johnson grass weed from hand-sewn, clear plastic vinyl. Displayed in three islands, the arrangement implies the propagation of an invasive species. Johnson grass was supposedly introduced for livestock grazing, but can be toxic if consumed in large quantities. The weed can reproduce both by seeds and rhizomes, making it a fast-spreading nuisance species.

"Too often, we don't have a clear view of what the ramifications will be for a plant that has been altered or the species that depend upon it for survival," Lester's artist statement reads. "The new outcome of this, potentiality, can capsize a natural balance or create a new species for that balance. This possibility is as exciting as it is frightening."

Originally from Shreveport, La., Lester moved to San Antonio in 1989 and received her bachelor of fine arts degree in painting from The University of Texas at San Antonio in 1993.

The Texas Contemporary Artists Series (TCAS) exhibitions showcase the talent of some of Texas' premier artists. In keeping with Institute of Texan Cultures' mission of engaging the understanding and celebration of Texas' cultural heritage, the series focuses on the work of contemporary artists who call Texas home. Common to all of their work is the bold vision and unbridled exuberance that is the quintessence of Texan culture.

The series opened with an exhibition of works by artist Luis Valderas, which ran from January to March this year. Upcoming exhibits will highlight the work of Carmen Oliver (February-April 2010) and Henry Cardenas (August-October 2010).

The Institute of Texan Cultures is on the UTSA HemisFair Park Campus, 851 E. Durango Blvd., in downtown San Antonio near the Alamo and River Walk. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday; noon-5 p.m., Sunday; closed Monday. Admission is $8 for adults (ages 12-64); $7 for seniors (ages 65+); $6 for children (ages 3-11); and free with membership, UTSA or Alamo Colleges identification.

For more information, call (210) 458-2300 or visit the Institute of Texan Cultures Web site.

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The Institute of Texan Cultures is an agency of the UTSA Office of the Vice President for Community Services. The institute's mission is to engage lifelong learners in the understanding and celebration of Texas cultural heritage. The 182,000-square-foot complex features 65,000 square feet of interactive exhibits and displays that tell the stories of Texans.

The institute develops quality, accessible resources for educators and lifelong learners on topics of cultural heritage and strives to develop a rich and vibrant culture in the arts and humanities that will expand the community's awareness and appreciation of Texas through an engaging series of exhibits, programs and special events. Resources for multiple audiences are available at the Institute of Texan Cultures Web site.

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