Born in New Zealand and raised on Melbourne’s Hurstbridge line, Ling is a multi-faceted artist based in Melbourne’s infamous Everfresh Studio. With a background in stylised lettering and graffiti, Ling is also well known for his 80’s and 90’s pop culture pieces, littering the streets of Melbourne and beyond, pushing those who come in contact with the pieces to reminisce of days gone by.
Having shot to international notoriety through his “Allure of Gold” project, taking everyday items like trains and cars that have been left to degrade and painting them gold, giving them the illusion of value once again, Ling is now pushing things even harder. Whilst on the hunt for a holy grail gold piece – ‘I noticed an abandoned fighter jet at Santorini airport…’– Ling has started working on far more diverse projects, pushing the canvas-based boundaries of portraiture and abstract work. A member of Melbourne’s ID crew, Ling is no stranger to collaboration, and is as familiar working alone as he is taking part in full scale productions, including most recently at Denmark’s Roskilde festival.
Damo: Who is Ling?
Ling: My name is Ling, I’m a graffiti writer based in Melbourne and I have been writing since about 2000. I have a background in stylized lettering and train writing; all that sort of stuff. In more recent times I have been trying to push out into other boundaries, characters, objects, murals and so on.
Damo: Always Melbourne?
Ling: Yeah I was born in New Zealand but raised (and now based) in Melbourne.
Damo: So what got you into graffiti and by extension art?
Ling: Probably similar to a lot of people, I’ve always been artistic, always drawn since a very young age, and always had an interest in it. Growing up in suburban Melbourne and having to travel the train line you see a lot of stuff. I grew up on the Hurstbridge line and there’s really high-quality things along that line from the 90s like old WCA and TSF… you can’t help but notice them.
I just started doing some doodling and some tags and then I eventually met a couple of people that were already actively doing graffiti and that really got me into painting. When you get an actual painting partner to go out with every night then it’s on!
Damo: Can you describe your lettering style?
Ling: So the lettering style it’s… gee I’ve never been asked that. I’d like to think that it’s based on traditional graffiti lettering… I guess if you look back at New York styles and things like that. It’s definitely not like that 70s or 80s sort of stuff. It has the same tradition of trying to push the letters as far as I can. Then abstract them.. the letters don’t even look like the letter they’re supposed to be, but it is artistic.
It’s a traditional style that I can run – it’s always fills, outline, final, 3d’s yeah the same each time. In terms of the more recent stuff the characters and things like that? If you do the same thing over and over and over again you eventually want to push the boundaries a little bit more or take it in different directions. So for me that’s doing characters and more technical painting, I am also into abstract stuff as well. It all goes back to childhood stuff. My formative years were the 80 and 90s, so a lot of my painting is pop culture references from that time, or themes that I find funny, it might be an in-joke with friends that has good imagery attached to it, so you want to paint that and hopefully you know someone that can get in on the joke.
Damo: I wanted to talk a little bit about the GOLD project that you have done and I presume you will continue with? Can you just talk a little bit what is it and what made you go down that path?
Ling: So that’s an example of something that started as a casual conversation, a bit of a joke looking at the abandoned freights out at Tottenham. We were looking at them and talking about how they were valuable, but they had just been left to rot. They’ve been trashed and they’ve been sitting there for at least a decade… at least as long as I can remember. We were talking about how good it would be to just see one completely gold. We knew that it would be one hell of an effort just to paint the whole thing, but also knew how good it would look amongst all the rotten rattlers.
Eventually we went and did it and that is how it started. I thought to myself that’s something that’s been just completely disregarded, left to die, but also something that was once valuable. You see rail companies constantly rolling out new stock, but then you’ve got old stock just slowly disintegrating.
It recaptures it and makes you think about it. From there I thought ‘that was cool, I like that; I like the images that came out of it. I then realised that the concept can be applied to other things.
I want to keep it going, but it’s finding the right object and the right scenario that fits the brief. The car was opportunistic, everyone’s got cars, but to just crash it into a tree and leave it? It’s obviously not normal. We drove past that one night and decided to get it. I obviously didn’t expect the whole neighborhood to wake up and enjoy it, but I am glad they did. After that was the house and since then it’s constant hunting, seeing what the next project will be. People are always sending me stuff and saying ‘paint this, paint that’ but it’s stuff that they might find funny, but it doesn’t fit my brief.
Damo: Has somebody has got a spare plane?
Ling: Yeah I’ve been looking at that sort of stuff. There are a couple of planes in Indonesia. There’s a stack of abandoned passenger trains over there as well. There are lots of things. I noticed earlier this year when we were in the Greek Islands, in Santorini, there’s an abandoned fighter jet at the airport. I think it’s actually also an active military base, so maybe I don’t want to break into that, but it would look cool. There’s a million ideas they’re just not necessarily in Melbourne, but if someone does have an abandoned plane or something crazy it would be the ideal thing!!
Damo: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Ling: I guess it depends what I’m doing, but from anywhere and everything- obviously as I said earlier a lot from childhood imagery; things that I feel a bit sort of nostalgic about like action movies that you grew up watching or cartoons.
I also draw inspiration from music; be it quotes, old music clips … whatever it may be. It’s probably more so a theme for character based stuff that you might want to apply to a wall, but from a graffiti point of view you get inspiration from everywhere. It’s obviously a global culture and with Instagram and stuff like that it’s pretty easy to look at what everybody’s doing and get inspired. But for me the best is still Style Wars; the real traditional New York graffiti scene is inspiring.
Within my crew locally there’s a million different styles and they’re always doing really different stuff. They all stay busy whether it’s bombing or doing whatever it may be. But yeah… plenty of inspiration from everywhere.
Damo: You recently had a fairly epic spraycation. Where is your favorite place to paint and why?
Ling: Favorite place to paint… I think it depends because you can go to a pretty shit place, but if you’re surrounded with good people that can make the place. I got the opportunity to go Roskilde – that was an amazing place, but it’s not a country or a location, it’s an event. That was good people, good vibes and endless painting. The last spraycation was pretty special as it was my honeymoon too (that also involved a lot of painting), but yeah it was good.
My favorite place to date is probably still Melbourne. That’s probably a bit biased but all my mates are here, there’s endless spots, you can go paint whenever you want to and it helps knowing the city inside out.
Damo: So you’re in the back of Everfresh Studios. What does studio mean to you and why do you choose to be part of the group studio?
Ling: What it means has changed a lot over the years. The first studio we had was with crew, a bunch of ID before it even was ID. That studio was more about getting shit-faced and going painting as much as possible. It was more of a bloody crack-den than it was a studio to the point that there were junkies sleeping on the couch!
What it is now? I really look at it as an artistic space, but also a place of business. Everyone in the studio are full-time artists and it is a much more professional setting. Everyone comes in early and they work a full day if not more. The thought process and the ideas are around you constantly. I think this is my fourth studio and each one’s just been a little bit more professional, but maybe that just comes with age?
Damo: Is collaboration important to you?
Ling: Collaboration is important, especially for the graffiti side of things, because you need to be able to work with other artists. I don’t mind painting by myself but a lot of the time you are painting with other friends, people who come to visit and say ‘let’s go paint’. Whether it’s coming up with a color scheme that works for both people, or working out how to incorporate your work with theirs and vice versa. It could be on a very simple level right down to doing a fully planned production and I think that’s important because it also gives you an idea of how well you work with someone. I know that there’s people that I’ve worked with where you can get a result, but it might be a little bit harder and then there are other people that you paint with and it comes a lot more naturally. Moving forward you probably gravitate more to working with them because you know that you’re on the same wavelength.
I find collaboration is also great to connect with other people. It’s one thing to visit a city, go paint with someone and then leave. If you go there, get to know them, have a beer with them, sit down and work out how you’re going to approach something it then becomes a project that you work on together and can be really proud of, that’s a big difference.
Damo: What do you want to be known or remembered for?
Ling: That’s a good question and I don’t know… hopefully someone that’s constantly evolved and kept pushing. Someone that just hasn’t sat idle and has been constantly on the improve. As long as I’m not stagnating then I’d be comfortable.
Damo: What’s next for Ling?
Ling: Paint more, hopefully some bigger and more diverse projects, hopefully some more canvas work and things like that. I’ve started painting more portraits on canvas, abstract pieces on canvas, more characters out on the street and other things. I’m really hopeful to be working on some bigger projects as well that are more in line with my style.
Damo: Pushing for a show?
Ling: I don’t know, I guess kind of.. I need to get comfortable with that idea. I’m sure there’s a lot of people that go through it, but the anxieties and stuff I attach to a show is probably a hurdle that I’ve just got to get over. I also need to find something that I’m comfortable with and that I think will make a body of work that I’m happy to present. There are probably about five different ideas that I’m trying to chase down whereas I probably should just focus on one. But yeah we’ll just wait and see!!