Traditionally painters are imagined as solitary figures. Working alone into the small hours in isolated studios, delving inward to their inner selves and shunning the noise of the wider world surrounding them.
Lynda Strong is a Northern Sydney painter who could not be further from this stereotype. Exuberantly social, Strong is an extrovert and constantly seeking to extend her social network, a way of being seemingly inhibited by the fact that she lives her life excommunicated from most usual modes of socialisation.
Strong lives with Down syndrome and is also deaf. Her intellectual disability results in significantly impaired literacy skills, and as such is essentially deaf to all verbal and written forms of communication; she is unable to utilise the two dominant language systems operating within society.
As an arts worker at Studio ARTES Northside, I have known her for almost five years. Studio ARTES offers art programs for adults with disabilities and Strong is a regular participant. Despite having studied sign language, my retention of this system has been shamefully minimal and there are few people working or volunteering at Studio ARTES who are fluent. Despite this, within both Studio ARTES and the wider community Strong has forged a rich social network. Her broad range of friendships demonstrates her drive to form relationships and it is largely through her artistic practice that this network has been created. While Strong struggles with her literacy skills, through her practice she has developed her own language system; a language forged through paint.
Strong has painted for most of her life. Now in her early thirties, she has developed an extensive portfolio. To look through Strong’s portfolio is to enter her social world, as her body of work is largely composed of portraits of people she knows. With her paintbrush, Strong interprets the faces of those she loves and those she wishes to love her. In these portraits, faces swim in a sea of colour. Strong paints boldly, exaggerating forms and abstracting shapes as she likes, while her sensitive combination of pastel tones imbues each face with a sense of radiant contentment.
Strong not only paints on canvas and watercolour paper, but also on scraps of paper and her own clothing. It is not uncommon for me to discover an original artwork in my bag after a day at the studio. Scrawled on a scrap of paper, it will be a portrait of myself alongside the artist, the paper having been silently slipped into my bag earlier that day.
Stong’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, and this seems to please her, however it is clear that she derives the most satisfaction from the social interactions her paintings inspire. She charms people through her portraiture, because you simply cannot help feeling flattered and touched when she presents you with a stylised portrait. Through the simply act of drawing, Strong overcomes barriers to forms of language that most people take for granted, and is therefore able to make herself heard in a world in which she could so easily have remained mute.