Over the course of a weekend, Tanya Ling donned paint kettle and paint brush and set about creating 20 large works consisting solely of lines. These Line Paintings comprise her first solo show at London’s Mayor Gallery. Her designs dive and swoop, twist and turn and form abstract, elegant and delicate abstract shapes created entirely by the use of the line.
Some possess architectural echoes or a kind of dreamlike psychedelia, others a figurative resemblance – plenty to stimulate the imagination (though one is spoiled for me by containing a central pattern bearing an unwitting likeness to Donald Duck!)
“Every line is important,” she maintains. “There is no line less important than any other line. The lines are not colouring anything in, they’re not trying to be anything but a line.”
Ling has been using line designs for a number of years. Born in Calcutta in 1966, she made her name as a fashion illustrator having studied Fashion Design and Textiles at Central Martin’s in London. She worked with Dorothee Bis and Christian Lacroix in Paris and then on her return to London, enjoyed a stellar career in the fashion world, enjoying prestigious commissions and contributing to leading fashion titles the world over. British Vogue named her as one of the most important trendsetters in Britain and in 2003 The Observer Magazine named her its designer of the year. 50 of her drawings are housed in the V&A in London.
Lines comprised a textile design she painted for the Louis Vuitton Cruise Collection in 2009 and they appeared on a Fendi handbag around the same time. Latterly, as she began the transition from illustrator to full-time artist, she embarked on her first series of line drawings in successive years from 2013, first drawing a line mural on the Mayor Gallery’s former 22a Cork Street space before it was demolished.
These earlier ones were painted in blue and green, with lines that never intersected. Her current ones are looser, with crossed lines and with that contemporary style of leaving the drips. The works in this new show are all painted in red, specifically in Dr. PH Martin’s Cadmium Red. She chose this because it reminded her of old football scarves from the 1970s that had an orange tinge to them. “I thought it would be exciting to make something that’s got this retro feel about it but it’s so not retro.”
None of the paintings have been reworked and the spontaneity of each one is a necessity, she says, for maximum life to live in each line. In the clip below, she speculates as to whether she is influenced by pre-conceived notions.
Tanya Ling feels liberated by the loosening of the restraints that working as a fashion illustrator imposed upon her – the demands, for example, of the art and fashion directors. Making work entirely for herself without practical application has felt “like a jailbreak” though she doesn’t completely rule out entertaining another fashion project if one came along that she felt was exciting enough.
Artists, though, are not always entirely free to do exactly what they want since they have to be aware of the marketplace in which to sell their work. Tanya Ling has never, in that sense, been an outsider. She went to art school and has worked for a long time in the commercial, creative profession. She set up an art gallery with her husband, William Ling, so knows a thing or two about how the art world works. But she has gained a sufficient reputation to be able to revel in her relatively new found freedom of being a recognised artist. And she intends to get bigger, literally.
“Obviously I’d love to just keep going and to work constantly with big pieces because I love massive scale and I really enjoy working close up to a massive scale. I don’t feel I have to stand back, so it’s just a joy and a privilege just to be able to do it.”
Tanya Ling’s Line Paintings are on show at The Mayor Gallery, 21 Cork Street, 1st Floor, London W1S 3LZ until 6 April 2018.
The images are courtesy of the artist and gallery.