The reproduced artwork, like a photographic portrait, has a peculiar relation to the real. In Lindy Lee’s paintings, the presence of a face is both denoted and revealed as an illusion of saturated pigments. This strange double-bind of perception, as it encounters photographic representation, is a continuing theme in Lee’s work. Her paintings have always contained facsimiles of ready-made portraits. These operate as a retrieval of subjects from an obscured past, as meditations on being through time.
The current exhibition at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Trueworld and the Pilgrim, marks the tenth anniversary of Lindy Lee formally taking Zen precepts (Jukai). The artist has spoken of this exhibition as her ‘Jukai Renewal’ work. It presents a significant shift in Lee’s approach to the portrait. Never before have the portraits been shown in fragments or extended across several panels, as we see in Trueworld Greets The Pilgrim (2004). The two main characters presented in the exhibition derive from a Zen Buddhist text, The Gateless Barrier by Mumonkan. Lee explains, “Jissai the nun can be interpreted variously as ‘True World’, ‘True Encounter’ or ‘True Boundary’. Her name implies the most vital qualities of human existence as well as its extent.” The monk Chu-chih becomes The Pilgrim when he recognises that actual interaction with the world is the real path to enlightenment. The third portrait, the Little Shield Maiden is an entity of the artist’s own creation. Lee writes, “The Little Shield Maiden embodies the qualities of compassion and protection. She has a fierce loyalty to the pilgrim but her energies are never vindictive or defensive, they are simultaneously protective and open to the world.”
Colour is of paramount importance in Lee’s compositions. Like figurative work, Lee believes that colours can stand as images in themselves, as in the powerful abstract red-on-red of True World (2004). Of the colours in Trueworld and the Pilgrim, Lee states, “The predominant colours in the exhibition are red and purple. Red is the colour of life, corporeality, blood, matter… Purple, the marriage of red and blue (life and spirit) is the colour of the pilgrim. The purple is rich, dark and fecund—full of enormous potentiality and because of this very potentiality, the pilgrim’s path is often a path of great difficulty.”
Since the early ‘80s, Lindy Lee has investigated the European and American canon of portraiture, questioning what constitutes authenticity in artistic practice. Through appropriation, Lee explores the relation between the copy and the original, and her unique strategies draw on Pop Art, Minimalism and postmodern theory. Early photocopies of Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt were painted and splashed over with ink, and scenes from religious renaissance and mannerist paintings were remade by carving (excavating) the scene from wax covered canvases. In the early ‘90s, Lindy Lee began to practice Zen Buddhism, and from this time the use of modular panels, intense block colours and flung wax have become the artist’s signature. In the last few years, Lee has increasingly stressed the personal content of her work—found portraits of family members emerge, as do images that reference her practice of Zen. The molten wax flung over the surface of these grids is also like a photograph. It figures an instant that cannot be repeated.
Lindy Lee has been represented by Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery since 1986. She has shown extensively both in Australia and internationally in important museum exhibitions, including the1985 Australian Perspecta, the 1986 Sydney Biennale, Prospect ‘93 (Germany), Edge to Edge: Contemporary Australian Painting to Japan (1988), Transcultural Painting (toured throughout Asia 1994) and, Photography is Dead, Long Live Photography, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (1996). She is a founding member of Gallery 4A in Sydney’s Chinatown and her work is held in most of Australia’s major public collections, including the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Art Gallery of Western Australia, the Art Gallery of South Australia as well as numerous corporate and private collections.