By JOYELL NEVINS | La Mesa Courier
The Duke of Earl has come to downtown San Diego from Mt. Helix riding a wave of gold.
That’s right: artist Lester “Duke” Windsor is combining the intricacy of gold leaf with the rich colors of paint to showcase how the sunlight hits the backstreets of San Diego.
“Radiance” is a solo exhibition featured at Sparks Gallery, housed within the historic Sterling Hardware Building, from December to March. Windsor, a Mt. Helix resident, had learned of owner and chief curator Sonya Sparks’s vision of showcasing local professional artists, and submitted his work for inclusion in her space.
His nickname comes from when he worked as a combat illustrator in the Marine Corps in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Windsor’s Marine brothers used to chant the popular Gene Chandler lyrics as his ‘theme song’ when he walked into the barracks.
Windsor was designated with the MOS 4611 Combat Illustrator designator, attached to Combat Camera and the audio-visual support branch when he was on a base. His duties included working on the training support publication and senior officer portraits, media and television graphic production, and hand lettered signage.
“All of our graphic work was even before desktop publishing on a computer,” he recalled. “Everything was paste up, produced by hand. Definitely ‘old school.’”
His artistic days are even older than that, starting when Windsor began sketching battleships and airplanes at age five. He’s incorporated multiple mediums since then, all while working as everything from an amateur rodeo cowboy, to San Diego Opera singer, to fourth degree black belt in Kempo martial arts. He opened his first art studio space in San Diego in 1994.
Still glowing and growing
Although Windsor has been involved in art almost his entire life, he is still learning, discovering and creating – hence the addition of gold leaf to his designs.
“I truly love the journey the creative process offers. It is still 90 perspiration and 10% inspiration. My mind is always in that incubator session,” he said, noting that, “The creative process is human. We are the only species that ‘thinks’ to create, whether it’s art or a solution to a problem.”
His fascination with gold leaf started with a gift of the material from an artist friend a few years ago. Windsor also pulled inspiration from the works of Gustav Klimt, and Russian iconic wood panels he saw at Timken Museum.
“The reverence and visceral experience I felt from the luminance of these traditional icon works further inspired me,” he said.
Windsor describes gold as the “color of extravagance, wealth, riches and excess,” and a symbol of spirituality. Therefore, the gold leaf was a perfect complement to his “Golden Skies” series, which expressed the “wonder and power of light” in San Diego streets.
“In the art world, gold leaf techniques are often considered as merely decorative art,” Windsor noted in his artist statement. “My goal is to advance gold leaf as a contemporary medium.”
The Radiance exhibition features both paintings and sculpture. Although Windsor notes that the “purely traditional” method of making gold leaf from scratch can be intricate and detailed, he employs a more straightforward method with ready-made mediums and adhesive.
“The process is simple,” he explains. “Plan, prep, sketch the layout, apply size to a tack, apply leaf, brush, paint final image, buff and seal the finished work with varnish.”
The process may be ‘simple,’ but the results are exquisite. Windsor hopes to continue developing this series and method even after the Sparks exhibit run.
The Treehouse of La Mesa
Although Windsor has lived and worked all over San Diego for the last 40 years, he currently creates in his art studio from his home in Mt. Helix.
In 2014, Windsor and his partner were looking to purchase a home together. They were searching for a quiet, rural-like setting, with a view and a separate studio space – then inspiration struck.
“My partner noticed a house with a stunning view called the ‘Treehouse of La Mesa’ in the paper,” he described. “We went to check it out and found more than we expected. We found Mt. Helix beautiful, quiet, and with a charming rural, country-in-the-city feel.”
They were sold then, and five years later, they still love their “city in the country.”
Work with him
Want to explore the process of gilding in gold leaf yourself? You may not be able to visit his home studio, but you can register for the special workshop Windsor is hosting at Sparks from 6-8 p.m. on Jan. 29. Guests will be able to learn the history, tools, materials and techniques of applying gold leaf to artwork through both traditional and experimental methods. Tickets are required.
You can also take workshops and courses with Windsor at Art on 30th Street, where he instructs in drawing and painting.