When you first step into Linda Lindsay’s Oak Bay studio, you might mistakenly think you’re alone — until you look more closely. In one corner, a woman watches you intently, her eyes seemingly following you. There’s a dancer by the window — her back to you, but her muscles awake and tense — and the bust of a man, his gaze wise and warm.
The lifelike quality of Lindsay’s sculptures is almost unnerving. True, she’s exacting in proportion, but it’s more than that. There’s a sense of movement running through them, as if they’re frozen but for a second. Lindsay works with her locally gleaned models for years, getting to know their gestures, how they raise an eyebrow, the tilt of their heads, the twinkle in their eyes. She wants to capture how they feel about the world they live in, how they project themselves. She wants to honour them and show others their beauty. In doing so, she’s creating snapshots of her local community.
Coming from a long line of poets, musicians and painters, Lindsay was encouraged to draw from a young age and artistic flair seems to run in her blood. Her calm exterior doesn’t hide the sheer ball of passion inside. When she’s talking about her work, she becomes so animated, so swept away by the story behind it and the people involved, you can’t help but be swept along with her.
Her commitment to precision is earnest. After finishing her art degree, Lindsay studied with a former physician. “If I’m going to do a figure, I want to do it right,” she insists. “I study anatomy at least four to five hours a week.”
Her current studies are taking her beyond the muscle and the bone, “to the fat deposits in the face. It’s fascinating,” she says.
“I know when I’m done — when I look at the piece and I see it move. When it fools me into thinking it’s someone who has life.” Linda Lindsay
She shows me an écorché bust she’s working on, its rib cage and clavicle exposed on one side, muscle tissue stretched across the other. The white, water-based clay certainly looks bone-like, but there’s nothing ghoulish about it. Instead you see the beauty of the human body and all of its parts. These busts give her an inside look at figures, and enhance her works’ realism.
After completing the bone structure, she wonders, “Beef it up and make it a weightlifter or add tone and turn it into a dancer? There’s an element of surprise in it. It’s like giving birth.”
Lindsay works on multiple pieces at once. At first she shows me four but then, as we pass through another part of the studio, she points out six or seven more pieces, covered in cloth and plastic to keep the clay damp. Works in progress. She’s always pushing the boundaries and is alive with ideas of techniques that she hasn’t seen tried before.
She began the larger-than-life dancer 10 years ago. As she pulls the sheet off of it, I see the countless marks and notes she’s scribbled on the clay.
“That’s where I want to change something, where there’s an aspect of it that could be better, where I want to add or take some clay away. Sometimes you can overwork a piece. You get carried away and ruin what you have. Then you need time away. You need to come back with a fresh look. It pushes you to learn.” She can spend 50 to hundreds of hours on a sculpture. It depends how far she wants to go.
“I know when I’m done — when I look at the piece and I see it move. When it fools me into thinking it’s someone who has life,” she says.
She shows me a bronze flamenco dancer that’s all about movement, her intense expression daring me to dance with her. The anatomy is so precise that when the sculpture was moved, it stood balanced on the ball of one foot.
“At the beginning of a piece, it’s vigorous. Gradually you begin working on the small things. You experience each little thing that means so much about humanity. It becomes mesmerizing. It gets me through the toughest times, gives me something to be focused on. You’re in the moment. It gives you a place to relax.”
Her goal is to share joy through her work: “There is a lot of sadness in life. I don’t need to retell that.” Her sculptures share stories of strength, of hope, of inner freedom and fearlessness. She captures the model’s energy.
“We are given our gifts for a reason. We’re given an opportunity — we might choose dance or music or painting … creativity makes us feel healthy and happy.”
Lindsay’s second love is teaching, something she’s been offering in Victoria since she moved here from California more than 20 years ago.
“It’s an opportunity to share something I’ve taken my whole life to learn. So many people don’t have the opportunity to learn to be creative. They might be given some materials but not the skill and the guidance to launch themselves creatively. I love to empower my students with that ability.”
Many people come to create sculptures of loved ones who have passed away.
“It can be therapeutic, spending time relating with them, looking at photos and remembering the fullness of the best times.”
Other people sculpt their children or something new from their imagination.
She also has a dream project: a neighbourhood piazza with a fountain and sculptures of dancers, celebrating community. It would be a place for people to go and enjoy something beautiful.
“People could say, ‘Meet me at the sculpture.’ They could sit and find peace. If I could do that one thing, it would give me more joy about my accomplishments than anything else.”
Originally published in Tweed Magazine
Writer: Korina Miller
Photographer: Ken Sakamato
Editor: Susan Lundy