Arts & culture

Artist Lindy Lee talks judging SWELL and the growth of Gold Coast art

Artist Lindy Lee. Photo by Ken Leanfore

September 12, 2022

Artist Lindy Lee at MCA. Photo by Ken Leanfore

Multi award-winning Australian artist Lindy Lee has spent the last forty years helping to shape the landscape of Australia’s art scene and gaining international recognition for her thoughtful and striking pieces. And this year, she’s the judge of the 20th SWELL Sculpture Festival on the Gold Coast.

Lindy’s work has historically been informed by her Chinese ancestry, philosophy and the questioning of self. Her work has taken her to Canada, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore, while her large-scale public pieces stand proudly at the Art Gallery of South Australia, Sydney’s Chinatown, the Zheng Zhou Cultural Centre, China and Hong Kong.

Lindy caught up with us just before the 2022 SWELL Sculpture Festival prizes winners were announced. She described what she was looking for in the judging process.

“It’s always subjective but then you have to have a few rules. The work needs a certain kind of presence. It doesn’t have to be loud or anything like that but the artworks have to be themselves. It can’t be pretending to be anything else but it’s authentic self, and it has to tell a story.

“Then there’s the crafting,” she continued.

“It’s not that I mean it has to be perfectly well made but it’s more to do with that it embodies the ideas. I read the artist statements and usually there’s a kernel of something they care about. If they speak that, it has to come through in the work.

“Finally, it’s SWELL, it’s the Gold Coast, so I’m looking for work that isn’t just good work but you’re up against so many other things and one of the other things you haven to take into consideration in public art is how it relates to the environment or the context.

“It can be a fabulous piece but if it looks like a sore thumb on the beach, that’s a problem.”

Brigid Vidler Salvage / Selvage. Winner of the 2022 SWELL Sculpture Festival main prize

Brigid Vidler’s ‘Salvage / Selvage’. Winner of the 2022 SWELL Sculpture Festival main prize. Photo by Leximagery.

Permanent Sunrise by artist Alejandro Propato. Photo by Ravel.

‘Permanent Sunrise’ by artist Alejandro Propato, Highly Commended at SWELL 2022. Photo by Ravel.

SWELL’s 20th anniversary is the perfect time to look back at the event’s beginning and growth to where it is now, as well as where it’s possible to go in the future. Lindy believes in the importance of  local community involvement in shaping a City’s culture.

“I think because Australia is becoming more aware of its own cultural foundations, that competitions like SWELL are really important because it’s a grassroots thing.

“Culture doesn’t come from governments saying ‘we need to have culture.’ Culture comes from this kind of situation, from communities and from artists who work together and make things happen, and that’s where real culture comes from.

“Australia is stepping into itself and its culture, so events like SWELL are really important.”

The Gold Coast of today is a far cry from the town Lindy remembers visiting for summer holidays as a child.

“When I was growing up the Gold Coast had nothing, maybe a little art shop on Cavill Avenue, but now there are real possibilities for people to show. It’s part of the maturing of the city.

“Yes it’s so much more built up and all that but Gold Coast City wasn’t an entity then, so now there’s a kind of coherent community and identity and Queensland I think is really growing into itself and Gold Coast is part of that.

“Gold Coast is not Brisbane. It has its own personality and own way of being authentic.”

“One of the things that makes places like the Gold Coast and Queensland change or grow up is the number of people on the ground who are willing to do the work then it becomes really deep. And that’s what I see in Brisbane and the Gold Coast. “

SWELL runs until 18 September, with the main outdoor sculpture walk on Currumbin Beach, and a whole program of exciting events in and around the area. The list of winners is below:

  • Neumann Family SWELL Sculpture Award – Brigid Vidler, Salvage/Selvage
  • Neumann Family Highly Commended SWELL Sculpture Award – Alejandro Propato, PERMANENT SUNRISE
  • Max Fabre Foundation Environmental Awareness Award – Remo Vallance, THE AMMONOID
  • SWELL Sculpture Artist Peer Award – Finn Cossar, HEX NUT HIVE
  • Jennie Neumann OAM Emerging Artist Award – Emily Rose Hastie, NE PLUS ULTRA
  • Somerset Storyfest Artist Statement Award – Matt Turley, ON REFLECTION