Just a few years after returning to the medium, Canton’s Steven Lester is already making a name for himself in the sports art world.
After spending more than 40 years in the commercial art industry, Lester’s career as an artist took off almost right away, as last month, he was honored as the United States Sports Academy’s 2019 Sport Artist of the Year.
“I was shocked. I’m fairly new at this. I’ve worked at art all my life, but I’ve only been a professional artist the last couple years. I decided to do what I liked. I wasn’t sure other people would. They told me I would be nominated. I never thought I’d have a shot, though, so I was really excited about it.”
Lester mixes the worlds of sports and art in a style he coined “representational expressionism,” which uses colors to create dynamic and kinetic art he hopes gives off energy to the viewer.
He still has relatively little experience bringing that to canvas, but he has merging those two worlds in other ways nearly his entire life.
“I was into art and sports as a kid,” he said. “I was athletic and loved baseball. I played in college wanted to go further, but once I realized that wasn’t going to happen, I really tried to find a way to work with both.”
Lester, 67, found that opportunity after school, when he began designing gameday programs for Georgia Tech.
He stayed in sports as a creative director at Turner Broadcasting, covering the Hawks and the Braves, but after a successful run in advertising, he made a return to his original medium.
“I’m working for myself,” Lester said. “Professional artists have to have entrepreneurial skills. If you don’t promote yourself, no one will know about or buy your art. It’s a whole different world that fascinates me. I wish I had kept it up all these years.”
The majority of Lester’s work has been commissioned so far, but he also wants to pursue his own passions.
That passion includes using his art to tell stories, which could open the door to a more diverse group of subjects.
“I’m trying to move away from team sports and get into some of the important narratives,” he said. “I’d like to get back and tell some stories about guys like Satchel Paige or Hank Aaron. Everyone knows how great those guys were, but I want to create something a lot of people maybe don’t think about. They don’t always know how hard it could be for those guys coming up.”
As Lester’s popularity has risen, so have his opportunities to do more speculative work.
His first solo sports show came in Canton last January with more than 70 pieces. Since, he has done four shows in four different states. He has one next month in Mobile, Alabama, and he is scheduled to do five live paintings at next year’s Olympics.
He plans to use the Olympic opportunity to pursue his passion projects even further with an Olympic series that includes athletes like Equatorial Guinea's Eric Moussambani, who saw an Olympic-sized pool for the first time as he prepared to compete in the 2000 games, and Japan’s Shun Fujimoto, who helped seal the gymnastics team gold medal for Japan at the 176 Olympics.
“Knowing I’m going to the Olympics next year, I started doing a series on those athletes,” Lester said. “Not the ones who came and won everything, though. I’m looking for people who had to overcome a lot to get there. Art is about telling stories, and there are a lot of great ones to tell in sports.”