The University of Queensland Art Museum presents a stunning 3-decade survey of Australian artist Lindy Lee’s practice.
Entitled “Lindy Lee: The Dark of Absolute Freedom”, the first major survey of Lindy Lee’s work reveals a meditative, fluid oeuvre that transforms along with the artist’s philosophical pursuits.
Australian artist Lindy Lee came to prominence in the mid-1980s. Critically praised since her early years, Lee continuously reinvented and developed her art over three decades. A stunning retrospective comprising 48 works from public and private collections showcases a diverse and profoundly philosophical practice.
Entitled “Lindy Lee: The Dark of Absolute Freedom”, the exhibition follows Lee’s ongoing pursuit of identity, authenticity and selfhood. Her Buddhist faith and Chinese heritage are interwoven with meditative ruminations on spirituality, life and the universe. The show is curated by University of Queensland Art Museum Associate Director Michele Helmrich and runs until 22 February 2015.
Fire in darkness
Curator Helmrich chose to portray Lee’s works in a backward chronology: viewers encounter the artist’s most recent works first, as they enter the gallery. These remarkable compositions utilise fire, pyrographic techniques and flung bronze to evoke the infinity of the universe. Helmrich remarks poetically in the exhibition press release (PDF download):
To step into a room filled with Lindy Lee’s recent artworks – those works of metal or paper whose surfaces have been ruptured so many times by fire – is to step into a world of night in which every surface glints light from fresh rain, and stars radiate in their thousands overhead.
In these works, cut metal is burned to create different patterns. The resulting pieces are comprised of fragments of glinting bronze, empty space and introspective shadows. The variety of forms and patterns pays tribute to the all-powerful might of nature, a force the artist is well aware of and celebrates through her art.
Portraits of history
The second room switches from fire to waxed canvas, dimming into rich, atmospheric colours. As a development from the earlier carbon photocopies she was first known for, showcased in the third room, Lee uses existing images of ancient figures and makes them her own. The reinvented waxed portraits feature grid formations, introspective repetition and a masterful handling of stark, minimal colours.
Lee states in the press release that the colours call out to her. Speaking of the transformation of her work, Lee says:
The materials, especially the colours, are a kind of autobiography. Black is the constant. I started my artistic career using only black. At that time, it was the colour of loss and mourning and now it is the colour of cosmos and mystery. The most personal and poignant colour for me is the green […] It evokes tradition on one hand, but I knew instantly when I started to use it that it was the colour of ‘the ocean of birth and death’.
The flawed and the beautiful
The third room of the exhibition showcases Lee’s earliest works. The artist photocopied existing found images and printed them on different materials. She then proceeded to leave her own mark using paint, shading, gridding and repetition. Referring to these early works, which defined the artist’s artistic vision, Lee says:
I loved the flawed copy, because it was a representation of what I was; I felt split and divided, and it was supremely painful.
Helmrich explains that Lee suffered from racism as a Chinese born in Brisbane in 1954. She was forced to assimilate when she felt lost and exiled, deprived of an identity. The curator recalls Lee telling her that “being an artist had not been a choice as much as an ongoing need or desire to find belonging and completeness.”
The press release quotes the artist:
The defining experience of my life is one of being fractured […] Everything I do is related to my longing to heal the split […] I think the fundamental and persistent question in my work is not ‘who’ am I, but ‘what’ am I – what is real?
Family and heritage
The last room of the exhibition is the most immersive and dramatic. Propped up cards of Lee’s family portraits create a rich red glow in a darkened room. The repeating, duplicated images and subtle shades of red and black evoke a haunting, yet calm and reverent atmosphere. The artist is at peace and protected among her family; finally, she belongs.
Helmrich remarks about the continuity within Lee’s wide-ranging media, including carbon photocopy, wax, fire and metal:
Despite the transformative moments that punctuate Lee’s works, currents of continuity can also be observed: repetition and the grid; obsessive approaches to image making; darkness and light; form and the formless (in Buddhist terms, emptiness); and images that unfold endlessly […] a deep current underpins the work.
From darkness to light
Apart from showcasing Lee’s diverse media and techniques, the thirty-year survey provides an insight into the artist’s life, influence and philosophical pursuits, which include Zen Buddhism. Helmrich muses that perhaps “[t]he darkness and pathos of the early works has […] evolved into a sense of light and transcendence.” She says in the press release:
Today, Lee’s quest is for a cosmos that continually unfolds and a darkness that is, at once, light […] While it may be too simplistic a reading, one could say that Lee began with blackness and now finds herself in a search for light; in her flung-bronze works and firestones, shiny formless forms stand in for an energy of existence, just as the faces that stared out from her earlier repeated photocopies stood for lives once lived.
Helmrich also declares that Lee’s work developed almost in tandem with shifts in Australia’s psyche, reflecting “the postmodern cultural debates of the 1980s, the turn to Asia and multiculturalism in the 1990s, and an increasing openness to ideas such as those offered by Buddhism.”
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