Harper’s is pleased to announce Col de Montagne, London-based artist Tanya Ling’s first New York solo exhibition. The presentation features seven new oil paintings by Ling completed in 2023 and opens on Thursday, September 7, 6–8pm, with a reception attended by the artist.
Ling, who was born in Calcutta and spent most of her adult life in London, currently makes work amidst the rolling hills of Le Gers, France. The region is just north of the Pyrenees, which Ling can see from her studio on clear days. The artist has titled each of the works that comprise Col de Montagne after these neighboring mountains that populate the border between France and Spain.
The French phrase col de montagne describes a mountain pass. These accessible routes, emerging naturally from centuries of erosion and volcanic activity, intersect mountain ranges and provide critical pathways for the migration of fauna and humans alike. For Ling, the Pyrenees mountain range and others are metaphors for art history itself: the mountain pass operates as an in-between space that distinguishes influence from new creation. It’s something akin to a staging post, flagging the ongoing journey that is contemporary artistic production in the face of pre-existing lineages across the art historical canon. With this framework at the fore, one can understand a mountain pass as a keeper of time, privy to the social, geological, and political evolution of borders throughout Earth’s existence.
The poetics of timekeeping take center stage in Ling’s painting practice. The artist applies a visual language distinguished by densely layered striations to capture the essence of transitional space. This aesthetic vocabulary of gestural mark-making pulls from the rich art historical tradition of abstract expressionism. The artist’s spontaneous, yet balanced paint application echoes the instinct-driven painting styles of canonical 20th-century action painters such as de Kooning, Krasner, and others of the New York School. Sustaining the historiography of abstract expressionism within the contemporary, the artist excavates emotional and geographic sites that appear to be ephemeral, mirroring the capricious temperament of the natural world itself.
To summon these environments, Ling implements dynamic linework with reactive, albeit attentive, curiosity. This improvisatory approach to painting can be found in works like Pico del Medio. Here and elsewhere, Ling constructs depth through a playful dance of light and dark brushstrokes. A collection of unwieldy streaks slither across the canvas in a frenetic yet harmonious fashion. In this case, translucent green tones occupy the background and set the stage for brilliant streams of crimson and deep blue, whirling in the foreground. The contrast of faint and bold washes whisper and shout, as if recalling conflicting memories or scattered dreams.
It is this esoteric realm, often glimmering in the shadows of Ling’s paintings, that makes these works feel deeply introspective. In Pico Tempestades, for example, a sea of murmuring darkness envelops a tangled prism of hues. The blackness quiets the busy pace of the kaleidoscopic tones, which zip around the canvas like electrons orbiting an atom. The gestural contours also resemble the labyrinth of marks one might find on a topographic map. Instead of charting geographic landscapes, together, the rich canals of paint conjure something akin to a cerebral highway, graphing ideation and reflection.
For Ling, the practice of drawing has always been a personal journey. The artist finds home in the act—it’s a method of chronicling life’s highs and lows, asserting one’s visual terrain, and imagining the world one wants to see into being. Throughout the course of the exhibition, Ling will transform Harper’s Chelsea 534, the gallery’s second space on 22nd Street, into her studio, thus inviting visitors into her ritual of homemaking. In many ways, this public performance of intimate creation mirrors the central tension in Ling’s work. Repeatedly, throughout Col de Montagne, Ling beckons viewers to consider the push and pull of interior meditation and external presentation. Her abstractions are relics of this friction: the works crystallize transitory spaces and imprint on metaphysical time.
—Written by Daniella Brito
Tanya Ling (b. 1966, Calcutta, India) received a degree from Central Saint Martins, London in 1989 prior to a career in the Parisian fashion industry. Upon her return to the UK, Ling, along with her husband William, opened the contemporary art gallery Bipasha Ghosh; in 1996 she produced her first exhibition of drawings in artist Gavin Turk’s studio on the Charing Cross Road, London. Most recently, her work has been exhibited at Taipei Dangdai (2023); Harper’s, Los Angeles and East Hampton (2022 and 2021); NADA Miami (2022 and 2021); PM/AM, London (2022); Mayor Gallery, London (2021 and 2018); and Newport Street Gallery, London (2019 and 2017). Over 50 of Ling’s works have been acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum Prints and Drawings collection, in addition to a collection of paintings and sculptures acquired by Damien Hirst’s Murderme collection. Ling lives and works in London.