Untitled 2010 is one of a series of paintings begun in 2010 made outside in the Herefordshire countryside. It features a close-up view of a group of concrete foundations, extracted from the earth and overgrown with patches of moss and grass. The peculiar crop and downward angle of the composition confuses the sense of scale, equipping the foundations with a monumental quality. The work is loosely painted and the individual brush-marks are intentionally discernible, making the interplay between the represented image and the physical accrual of paint on canvas more apparent. A bright yellow patch of lichen in the centre of the composition appears to have been applied directly from the tube and blades of grass in the foreground are indicated through single gestural strokes. Ling consistently depicts ‘non-places’ in his outdoor works in order to slow down the viewer’s recognition of the subject. A series of paintings made at London Zoo – a highly artificial environment fashioned to mimic nature – focused on patches of vegetation in hidden corners, the points at which the man-made and the natural intersect. Untitled 2010 presents a similar sort of artificial nature: man-made structures overgrown and reclaimed by plant life. Ling draws out the anthropomorphic qualities of the chunks of concrete, nestled together like a family group. In choosing to paint the same subjects repeatedly, Ling highlights the ‘elastic nature of the perceptual process’, whereby the means used to represent the subject remains the element that is ‘alive and mobile’ (Simon Ling in conversation with Tate curator Lizzie Carey-Thomas, 26 April 2011).
Ling’s primary concern is his emotional relationship to the visual world, accessed and described through a process of intense scrutiny and physical interaction with his subject. Like other painters of his generation such as Tomma Abts, Gillian Carnegie and Glenn Brown, Ling’s work reflects and exploits a tension between the represented image and its material construction through paint. Ling paints both in the open air, where his subjects are found in areas of nondescript urban or rural wasteland, and in the studio from constructed tableaux (see Untitled 2008, Tate T13580). Despite the diverse nature of his subject matter, his approach is a consistent one, an attempt to give form to an experience of the subject over an accurate likeness. He has commented that ‘it is a question of how you see something, not what it is’ (ibid.).
Sally O’Reilly, Time Out, London, 5–12 December 2001, p.62.
Head-Wig: Portrait of an Exhibition, exhibition catalogue, Camden Arts Centre, London 2009.
Lizzie Carey-Thomas and Clarrie Wallis, Art Now: Beating the Bounds, exhibition leaflet, Tate Britain, London 2009.