Simon Ling



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Not on display

Simon Ling born 1968
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1205 × 918 × 42 mm
Purchased 2015


Untitled 2012 belongs to a substantial and expanding series of works by British artist Simon Ling that focus on the urban landscape in and around Old Street in east London, where his studio is located. In keeping with other subjects chosen by the artist, much of the area is visually unremarkable, a jumble of office buildings and shabby shop fronts selling a variety of household and electrical goods. This particular painting focuses on a close up crop of one such building, the upper half rendered in cracked white stucco, the lower half showing the upper reaches of a tatty shop front featuring a hastily chained blank sign board, burglar alarm, cornice and drain pipe. No two angles appear the same, precipitating a sense of disorientation and continual movement, a feature enhanced by the characteristically arbitrary cropping of the image.

As with Ling’s earlier works, Untitled 2012 was painted through a process of intense engagement and scrutiny that involved direct observation of the subject (Ling returned repeatedly to the same location) and painting from memory in the studio. As a result, the relatively banal subject matter exerts a sense of estrangement and distortion, reflecting the equal influence of observation and the imagination on Ling’s painting. Curator Martin Clark has explained how, in these paintings, ‘the architecture itself seems to exude a sense of deep, elemental time; a slow inexorable compression, expansion, collapse and accretion. Each structure appears subject to a kind of pressure or force; gently pulled or stretched as they teeter, settle and sink into themselves and each other’ (Martin Clark in Tate Britain 2013, p.44).

The ‘elastic nature of the perceptual process’ is for Ling the fundamental subject of his work, believing that ‘it is a question of how you see something, not what it is’ (Ling in conversation with Tate curator Lizzie Carey-Thomas, 26 April 2011). His 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. He seeks to emphasise not just what an object looks like, or its material qualities, but to create an emotional equivalence for its material reality.

Ling often begins his paintings by covering the canvas in a layer of luminous orange ground, or by using the same orange colour to sketch out the framework of the image. While largely obscured by the subsequent layers of paint, areas of the initial orange surface are visible in places along the frame or, in this work, along the edges of the drainpipe and glimpsed beneath the stuccoed brickwork and cornice detail. These flashes of artificial orange offer a visual rupture to the otherwise naturalistically rendered objects, which Clark has described as a ‘tear in the screen of the image’ (Clark in Tate Britain 2013, p.50). The intense physicality and almost anthropomorphic quality Ling draws from his apparently inconsequential imagery reflect the combining of perceptual approaches – observation and memory – in his attempt to access the experience or ‘essence’ of a location, and of what it actually feels like to be there.

Further reading
Art Now: Beating the Bounds, exhibition leaflet, Tate Britain, London 2009.
Painting Now: Five Contemporary Artists, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2013, p.54.
‘Why Painting Still Matters’, interviews by Simon Grant and Nicholas Wroe, Guardian, 8 November 2013,, accessed 31 January 2015, illustrated.

Lizzie Carey-Thomas
January 2015

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