avoided interactions with strangers, but for extended periods of time, we avoided interactions with friends and family. While this isolation limited our geographic perspectives, halting travel and focusing our attentions on immediate regional challenges, the work of artists Shannon Lester and Endrené Shepherd, in contrast, turned outward to the world beyond their reach, and inward to a shared collective unconscious.
In merging literal and fantastical elements, Sea of Love invites us into a relationship with the land and its creatures that is both psychic and material. These works assert that a landscape is not simply a location on Earth, but a place in our imagination.
Shannon Lester is a Canadian interdisciplinary artist with a focus on painting and drag performance. In Sea of Love, his work explores queer embodiment and a queer ecology that imagines a hopeful future of community and care. This optimism is embodied in the sensual imagery of Lester’s work. In “Two Spirit Love,” male-bodied figures embrace; in “Paradis,” an amphibious human approaches a sea star with gentle curiosity; in “Life Will Find a Way,” a kneeling woman lovingly holds a fish in her palms.
While Shannon Lester offers a broad view of a complex ecology, both literal and fantastical, Endrené Shepherd
imagines the intimate space within the palms—small human figures recline inside a jellyfish or a bottle lost at sea and come eye-to-eye with a curious fish. Shepherd works primarily in acrylic, but she first began painting when her grandfather introduced her to watercolour. The influence of this medium, with its inherent sense of movement and unpredictability, is evident in the gestural nature of Shepherd’s subjects: in one painting, a seal somersaults in the canopy of a kelp forest, and in another, a dolphin, dappled by light, soars toward an unseen surface. Quiet landscapes move the eye skyward to similarly ephemeral subjects, such as when a coral reef dissolves into an abstraction of sun and water or pinking clouds float, for now, above a low sun. In this way, the paintings ask us to be present in these moments, which are indeed fleeting.
This temporality is evoked in many of Lester’s works, too. The wreckage of human ambition sits unassuming in the background, like a ghost or a memory—a barnacled skiff, forgotten gateways, skeletons, overgrown dwellings. While these images evoke an end of civilization, they contrast ironically with the profusion of underwater life, implying instead an optimistic future, and that, despite the sad forecasts, life indeed will find a way.
But what future is imagined here for humankind?
The literature of natural science has historically marginalized queer/trans bodies, and the supposed “unnaturalness” of queer sexuality and gender has been used to justify the persecution of LGBTQ2 individuals. In this way, queerness is often marginalized in the context of representations of nature. In Strange Natures: Futurity, Empathy, and the Queer Ecological Imagination, Nicole Seymour explains how this has resulted in, at its most extreme, a perception of “Nature” (rather than the “process of naturalization”) as a threat to queer integrity. Lester responds by centering not only queer sexuality in his depictions of Nature, but a queer fluidity in our material and psychic experiences of place. By rendering the sensual body as a fusion of both imagined/fantastical and material ways of being, Lester asserts a queerness unshackled by historical notions of naturalness. And so, fantastical human forms—mermen, sea witch, fairies—swim joyfully. They look boldly toward the viewer or recline sensually in a reef; the bodies most alive in this world are those of our imaginations. In this way, the paintings ask us to be more, to imagine more in our relationship with the world and each other.
About the Artists
Shannon Lester is a visual artist and teacher based in the Okanagan since 1999. He works primarily in acrylic on
canvas and has explored topics related to gender identity and sexuality in the past. His current work has moved
more into the realms of fantasy, mysticism, surrealism and nature spirituality with a strong focus on underwater/
ocean art. Lester grew up in Newfoundland and spent six years living and teaching in Osaka, Japan where he
started the drag-based performance art collective Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in 2009. He is also a local drag personality
known as Sasha Zamolodchikova in Kelowna and entertains regularly at different venues in BC and beyond.
Endrené Shepherd, born in Vancouver and raised in the rural setting of Kaleden, BC, Endrené displayed an aptitude for art-making from an early age. She learned how to handle watercolours from her grandfather, and has made art the focal point of her life for as long as she has existed. She graduated from the Capilano College Film Studies program in 1999, and went on to get a BFA degree from UBCO in 2004. Her work has been exhibited in exhibitions locally and internationally.
About the Writer
Andrea Routley is an LGBTQ2 community and arts organizer. She is the founding editor of Plenitude, Canada’s
queer literary magazine, and currently provides the logistical support for Black Liquorice Studio, an emerging
Okanagan-based BIPOC arts collective. As an MFA candidate at UBC-Okanagan, she is developing her third book