Submitted by Robyn Gillam
Lester Coloma’s murals can be seen all over Hamilton, painted directly on walls or in portable media. North Enders may be familiar with the whimsical food landscape at John and Barton that decorates the former Vegan and Butcher building, or the bicycle-riding pink elephant at Canon and James that briefly vanished back into the artist’s studio when the building changed hands. Both of these works represent some kind of community initiative– the Vegan and Butcher mural was a collaboration between Coloma and Art Forms, a project that brings together artists and marginal youth; they also worked together on another mural commemorating the history of Corktown at 134 Jackson St. The elephant, which was commissioned for Supercrawl, also celebrates the inauguration of bike lanes on Canon. As well, the artist has taught in mural painting in Hamilton, Halton and Niagara schools and led a Hamilton city workshop for people with intellectual disabilities.
Coloma, who was born and raised in Hamilton, says that he was first attracted to large scale art as a child by the Touchdown sculpture outside the old Canadian Football Hall of Fame near City Hall. Although he originally wanted to do medical illustration, a job at a mural artist’s studio after graduation from OCAD got him hooked on the format.
Coloma has worked all over Canada and the US, but his work is firmly based in his home location. His clients include local businesses and charities, as well as government, but many of his works have a local flavour. Apart from Corktown, other facets of neighbourhood life celebrated include the labourers who lived around 1 West St. South and the Ferguson Railway Station district, shown on the Salvation Army Building. Even if his public and private commissions are all different, Coloma says he always like to dig around for forgotten, local stories. Among the many mural artists working in Hamilton, all relating in different ways to specific locations, he sees himself as more formal, and coming from a background in illustration, drawn to tell broadly relatable stories. The Tesla mural on Wellington is a good example of this. Coloma drew on his childhood fascination with Greek mythology to imagine his subject bringing electricity to Hamilton, just as Prometheus gave fire to humans. The mural is located at the foot of the vanished Ferrie Street bridge, which once connected workers living in the North End to those electrified workplaces. As in his other works, the artist has dug into a forgotten past to bring a place back to life.
The author would like to thank Lester Coloma for speaking to her about his murals and allowing her to photograph him at work.