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An image of The silence of painters by Lindy Lee

Lindy Lee

(Australia 1954 – )

The silence of painters
Media category
Materials used
photocopy, synthetic polymer paint on paper, 6 panels

84.0 x 89.0 cm overall:

Each part; 41.9 x 29.5 cm; each panel

Signature & date
Signed and dated l.l. verso [panels a-f], ink "Lindy Lee/ Feb 1987".
Purchased 1987
Accession number
© Lindy Lee. Licensed by Viscopy, Australia
Not on display
Further information

In the 1980s and 90s Lindy Lee was closely associated with appropriation practices, most simply (if reductively) identified as the use of images from other artists’ work. Lee’s best-known works from this period used photocopied portraits and faces from the ‘masterpieces’ of Renaissance art, overlaid with veils of paint. Through repeated copying and the inevitable degrading of the ‘original’ reproduction, faces would emerge and submerge into inky blackness across multiple panels. This suggested both cultural distance from the iconic original works and our experience of them through ubiquitous reproductive technologies. Yet at the same time Lee’s work retained something of the aura of the original by showing just how much beauty could be retained in this repeated, copied and reworked state. The careful aesthetic choices Lee made in selecting and combining colours and images also pointed to more traditional formal concerns which continued to underlie her work.

In ‘The silence of painters’, a self-portrait by Rembrandt printed on a red ground is obscured with brushstrokes of black acrylic which drip and run down the images. Her brushstrokes are highly gestural, suggesting her presence and her hand in making the work. In ‘Dominion’ 1994 (AGNSW collection), the repeated face from a Renaissance painting is toned blue and submerges into darkness in some panels to become an abstract monochrome. There is no gestural presence of the artist in the making of this work and it seems more directly mechanical in its production. The near disappearance of the Renaissance image into the monochrome panels recalls Lee’s interest in American mid 20th-century abstract painter Ad Reinhardt and the ambition of the modernist monochrome painters to erase representation. The grid is a key structuring device in Lee’s work enabling the development of visual ideas dependent on repetition and subtle change across the multiple panels. Increasingly in the 1990s her use of multiple units enabled juxtapositions of different colours, of abstraction and representation, and of gestural and flat monochromatic panels.

The questioning of ideas about authenticity raised through appropriation took on a more personal note in Lee’s art from the mid 1990s, when she began incorporating portraits of immediate family members into her work. In ‘Virtues of the receptive’ 2003 (AGNSW collection), Lee included a portrait of her grandmother. Lee’s experience of being an Australian of Chinese descent and how this may have influenced her earlier exploration of cultural distance and questions of cultural authenticity became a recurring theme in her work. At the same time she also began incorporating her study and practice of Zen Buddhism, an interest shared by Reinhardt. ‘Virtues of the receptive’ includes monochromatic panels as well as a single, gestural panel in which thrown black ink bleeds down the red background. For Lee, colour is symbolic, with black indicating mystery and causation and red representing the carnal and the corporeal. Purple, as a mix of these colours, combines these elements. Her use of thrown ink often occurs while in a meditative state, a physical expression of her Zen spiritual practices.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection Handbook, 2006

Bibliography (4)

Deborah Edwards, Daphne Wallace, Margo Neale, Victoria Lynn and Sandra Byron, Review: works by women from the permanent collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, "Women Artists in the Contemporary Collection", Victoria Lynn, p13-15, Sydney, 1995, 15, 22.

Benjamin Gennochio, Lindy Lee, 'Shivering Beneath the Surface', Sydney, 2001, 9, 10 (illus.).

Wayne Tunnicliffe, Contemporary: Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection, 'Cultural memory, critical distance', pg.154-203, Sydney, 2006, 178 (colour illus.).

Donald Williams and Colin Simpson, Art now: contemporary art post - 1970, Sydney, 1994, 25 (colour illus.). fig. 2.3

Exhibition history (1)

Review: works by women from the permanent collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 08 Mar 1995–04 Jun 1995