Lindy Lee, artist, BRISBANE ART DESIGN (BAD)

I love the idea that we are creatures whose essence is time. We are born, live, then die. Our lives are an arc of time that we embody and enact ...

Lindy Lee is hailed as one Australia’s finest contemporary artists. This reputation has been forged over decades of work, with Lindy exhibiting far and wide since emerging on the scene in the 1980s. Born in Brisbane to Chinese immigrants, Lindy has drawn upon her heritage and feelings of alienation as a child in her artwork, which takes influence from her Buddhist faith and spans across a diverse range of mediums. Lindy has contributed work to the BRISBANE ART DESIGN (BAD) exhibition, which gathers artists that call Brisbane home. We caught up with Lindy ahead of the exhibition’s launch to discuss how her career began, her early inspirations, the affect of culture on her work and the concepts feeding into her current practice.

To start, we’d love to go back to the start of your artistic practice. Can you remember the first time when art became a dominant creative outlet?
I remember being maybe three or four years old, drawing while lying on my tummy on the veranda. It was my parent’s Kangaroo Point house. The sunlight was streaming through the window slats and I was mesmerised by the floating bits of dust and feeling how magical it was. I wanted to draw that magic and in that moment, I knew that the best way of connecting with the world was by drawing it. The love of drawing has always stayed with me.

What were some early artistic influences that helped inform, or perhaps still inform, your work?
I always loved abstract expressionism and minimalism – the American artists Ad Reinhardt and the Mark Rothko are touchstones for me. Also great European masters like Rembrandt and Artemisia Gentileschi continue to inspire me. Loving both traditions (the nonfigurative and figurative) isn’t mutually exclusive. A lot of my early work made reference to these artists.

Your career has seen you work across numerous mediums, from painting and sculpture to installation and public art projects. What has this versatility afforded you in terms of bringing ideas to life?
Although painting was my first love I am finding more and more that I want to work in three dimensions. Architectural and civic spaces are especially interesting because they not only invite you to engage with your physical body but social body as well. Not being tied to any one medium has been very liberating for the explorations of these spaces.

Taoist and Buddhist philosophies influence much of your practice – can you describe how these inspirations have shaped your work over the years?
I’ve always been plagued by the question of ‘who am I?’. It’s the universal human problem of identity and belonging. Taoism and Buddhism address not only the issue of ‘who’ but more profoundly ‘what’ am I? The ‘who’ is about self-image, self-perception. The ‘what’ is far more expansive – it’s about the context, conditions and connections that give rise to any individual existence. It’s not just about ‘me’, it’s about the sum total of everything. Taoism and (Ch’an/Zen) Buddhism have the added bonus of being deeply rooted in Chinese culture. So for me, not only did I find philosophies and practices that suited my temperament but also they gave me a connection to my ancestry.

We’re very excited to get a close look at your work that is being exhibited at the Museum of Brisbane during BRISBANE ART DESIGN (BAD)! Your flung-bronze pieces take inspiration from Zen Buddhist practice of flung-ink, and are imbued with cosmological concepts. What was it about this process that moved you to interpret it for this work?
Each splash of bronze is entirely unique and can never be replicated. Some would say the shapes happen by chance, which is partially true, however each splash is also part of an interrelated chain of cause and condition. To me, these bronze shapes are analogous to individual human life – we are each a unique moment time in a much larger continuum.

The flung-ink practice has been described as a partly meditative exercise, where one can clear the mind of ego and the self. Does creating art have similar contemplative properties for you?
Yes, making art is a contemplative and meditative exercise. Meditation is the practice of harnessing of head, heart and body together. The head and the heart love to flitter off into the many opposing directions of the past and future however our actual physical body can only be experienced in the present moment – you can’t experience yesterday’s body or the future body. I find that by working from this ‘present’ moment makes me more receptive to the alchemical and unexpected ways in which the individual elements of my work are responding to each other. I’m not just trying to figure it out in my head – I’m responding simultaneously with body and heart as well.

BAD is built around the basis of gathering artists who call Brisbane home, or who have been lucky enough to be inspired by the city in the past. How has Brisbane had an influence on your art?
In my twenties I left Brisbane to explore Europe and North America for a number of years. It wasn’t until I returned that I realised what a profound effect Brisbane had on shaping my life. There were two things that struck me. Firstly, after living in drab London for a number of years, it was a profound relief to be able to see the big sky and horizon lines in the Brisbane cityscape. Secondly, I intuitively understood that I needed to return home to make the art that was meaningful to me. Growing up in Brisbane was a mixed experience – there was still a lot of White Australia sentiment to battle with in my childhood. That policy caused a huge amount of pain. Returning to my birthplace was the only way to resolve that pain.

Over the decades, your art has been moulded by various emotions and themes – place, culture, heritage and identity, family, our relationship with nature and the cosmos at large, to name a few. What concepts and ideas are proving to be stimulating creative fodder for work you are creating at this point of your career?
I’m interested in time. Not the ‘clock’ or ‘chronological‘ kind, but the lived experience of time. I love the idea that we are creatures whose essence is time. We are born, live, then die. Our lives are an arc of time that we embody and enact. It’s probably why Buddhism is so interesting to me – the very heart of Buddhist teaching is about impermanence, which really is the nature of time as it unfolds from moment to moment.

In addition to being one of Australia’s leading contemporary artists, you have also held numerous leadership roles in the arts sector. What is your personal ethos when it comes to the work you do and what you’d like to achieve in this guise?
My personal ethos is that ‘we’re all in this together’. By working not just as an artist but also as teacher, board member and trustee, I am hoping to help facilitate the making of culture, which I believe is a collaborative endeavour.

Outside of art, what are you currently finding inspiring about the world around you?
I live between the quiet of an Australian rainforest with my husband Rob Scott-Mitchell and four Scottie dogs and the insane frenzy of cities like Shanghai and New York where I travel to almost every six-to-eight weeks . These two poles keep me pretty well entertained and inspired.

BRISBANE ART DESIGN (BAD) will launch officially at Museum of Brisbane on Saturday May 11. For more information, check out our handy guide for navigating the exhibition, and our top ten list of things to see and do at BAD 2019.

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