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Tanya Ling Draws a Crowd

Profiles

By Jackie Cooperman

From the garden studio behind her London home, artist Tanya Ling has become a fashion world darling, rendering feminine and whimsical illustrations for luxury brands and magazines like Vogue and Elle.

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“Home for me is a piece of paper or a canvas. I see those as a territory, a principality, an empire. That’s the world I make,” says Ling, 46, clad in her typical workday ensemble of “slightly luxurious” but somewhat consumed cashmere (her husband loathes moth balls) and a belted, paint-splattered safari dress.  Indeed, Ling, the Calcutta-born daughter of peripatetic Indian academics, has always defined herself through her art, using creativity to balance a childhood spent in India, Africa, America and Europe.

“I was an only child, so painting and drawing became like a companion,” Ling says. “It was stable and I could control it. From that perspective, my life hasn’t changed much.”

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Perhaps, but Ling’s life has become notably more glamorous since her early days toiling to gain admission to London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, from which she graduated in 1989.  “I never really planned to make a living out of fashion illustration,” says Ling. “I was quite naïve and thought everything was photography.”

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After working as a designer in Paris for Dorothee Bis and Christian Lacroix, Ling returned to London, opening an art gallery called Bipasha Ghosh with her husband, contemporary art dealer William Ling. In 1996, Ling debuted her drawings at artist Gavin Turk’s Charring Cross Road studio, and soon was working on commissions for British Vogue, Diane Von Furstenberg, Selfridges and Harrods. Ling has also designed her own ready-to-wear collections, which have sold at Henri Bendel, and has more than 50 drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s permanent collection.

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“When I design clothes, I draw the shapes out 20 times until they are singing,” she says. “But someone has to make the pattern and cut the pieces for me.” Despite her acclaim, Ling is still striving. “I don’t know what my biggest achievement is. I’m hoping that’s still coming,” she says. “I get very excited with every new job. I look back and it’s all one big ball of excitement. Even when some of my work looks like the lines have been drawn very quickly, my husband points out it’s taken me 46 years to get to that specific mark.”

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Ling’s enthusiasm for fashion and the subtle ways of personal style derives as much from classical sources as from Pop Art, composers like Chopin and Mahler, writers Sylvia Plath and Daphne Du Maurier, and director Alfred Hitchcock. Ling also finds inspiration from an impressive circle of friends, including fellow artists Georgie Hopton, Gary Hume and John Currin, as well as Nina Ricci creative director Peter Copping.

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“Andy Warhol said, ‘Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art,’” Ling says. “If no one ever asked me for commercial work again, I would still be doing what I’m doing.”

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A consumer of fashion magazines since she was a little girl reading her mother’s copies of Vogue, Ling cites Diana Vreeland, Yves Saint Laurent and Coco Chanel as important influences. Ling has passed her love of fashion and art to her three children: 23-year-old model and DJ Bipasha, known as Bip; 21-year-old son Pelé, a theater producer; and her 16-year-old daughter Evangeline, a student and sometime model, whom her mother describes proudly as “quite editorial-looking.” From her warm studio, Ling says she is ready for new projects, from mastering Instagram and working on her blog to her new book, a series of “idea drawings” for clothes, hair and shoes that Ling hopes will be published by the Fashion Illustration Gallery this summer.

“I’d also love to make huge paintings, more like poetry, that aren’t answerable to anyone,” she says. “I’ve got all this stuff in me that needs to come out.”

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