The Calcutta-born artist—mother to hyperkinetic blogger Bip Ling and model Evangeline—talks about her mellifluent blue line work.
The majority of Tanya Ling’s career has been dutifully documented in the titles one expects of a successful fashion illustrator: British Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, AnOther, Garage. Her work emerges in disparate locales: in the permanent collection of the Victoria and Albert (the museum acquired over 50 of her drawings in 2011), in a Tate online series featuring artists who’ve mastered Instagram (in Ling’s manipulations of the Insta-grid metal pipes commingle with plush bunny ears-come-petals, while farm eggs and glistening oysters are spliced and rotated).
Information is scarcer when it comes to Ling’s line paintings, which, along with her brilliant sculptures, have just begun to be exhibited. Ling’s line—unbroken, voluptuary, with slight graduations in shade—appears on large-scale wall paintings and canvasses of white satin. Her lines work in teams, gathering close to form a point of concentrated tension and then expanding outward. They are similar, at times, to a topographic map, with its many contours indicating elevation and altitude.
For Museum’s Renaissance issue, Ling explained the purpose of her line.
“It’s difficult to talk about without sounding self regarding or pretentious or getting out of my depth and tied up in my own arguments, but I will try. For me, at least, it’s helpful to describe the line as being like a sound wave. A group of lines [move] like a symphony.
I’m probably best described as an intuitive artist, so it’s not always clear to me what’s happening [as I work.] I’ve come to realise that I’m letting something out, something deep inside of me—the kind of stuff that’s beneath the surface of us all. Our longings, our fears, our hopes and dreams. Pleasure and pain, happiness and sadness. [My work taps into] something about life and death and our very existence.
The large-scale line paintings that I started to make last year … aren’t complicated by figuration or attempts to depict objects in space. They are flat, although an illusion of wavy three-dimensionality is created by accident, like the contour lines on a map. They are single colour and are made in one session. The process has a clear beginning and end.
My husband made a film with his phone camera of me making a line painting in the studio. I was listening to some music on the radio and it was as if I was following the score, as if I was conducting. I finished the painting when the music stopped. As the music gives way to silence the metaphor becomes less useful; the painting can then be experienced in it’s entirety (the beginning and end at once) and is static in time and space. This is true of all paintings—I’m not sure how helpful it is to point this out about my own, but once the process gives way to product, and when I’m satisfied I achieve a contentedness.
Works hit different notes. Sometimes they just make a noise and are discarded, but what I think I’m trying to do is express a need for something other. I am glad I can make them and then look at them, and share what I feel by showing them. When the paintings [speak] with clarity and resonate with others it’s tremendously satisfying and rewarding.”