Hackney artist talks about her craft

Yi-Ling Wo. Photo Credit: Naomi Seow

Yi-Ling Wo in her Hackney studio Pic: Naomi Seow

There is a genuine aura of enthusiasm about painter Yi-Ling Wo as she explains her painting techniques. “To communicate effectively with my audience, I tend to showcase my relationship with my subject matter,” she says with a smile as I observe a half-finished painting, with heavy, blended lines of paint spilling across the canvas.

Wo’s Hackney studio is a pleasant place. Surreal, pastel-toned paintings hang from its whitewashed brick walls while the fading rays of sunlight bounce off the bay windows.

A bra, previously painted white and decked with pink flowers, lies on the floor. “That’s part of my newer work,” Wo says, picking up the garment. “This is a test piece that’s part of the new project, the sculptural element is quite evident in comparison to most of my older works.”

Picture: Naomi Seow

Picture: Naomi Seow

Wo was born in Hong Kong and moved to Sussex when she was 13. Now 25, she has always enjoyed being creative and excelled in fine art as a child. Wo has shown her work in numerous open exhibitions in spaces such as warehouses around Hackney Wick and at the Display Gallery in Holborn.

That craft brought the self-taught painter to study fashion design at the London College of Fashion for two years, before halting it to move to Hackney. Being in Hackney allowed Wo to pursue her “side hobby”, as painting became something that deeply mattered.

Paintbrushes lie about in Yi-Ling's studio. Picture: Naomi Seow

Paintbrushes lie about in Yi-Ling’s studio. Picture: Naomi Seow

“I have had a fascination with a lot of pre-60s painting especially with the early-mid 20th century, like Milton Avery and Chiam Soutine. They’re amongst my favourites. I remember getting obsessed with Agnes Martin and her basic simplicity, and her works inspired me to create my current collection of works,” Wo says as she showed me her recent painting, Man man enjoys a bath. With its surreal brush strokes and baby pink hues, that painting could well be part of a support exhibition for the American abstract painter as it channels those exact imageries. “I loved how her works are often so simple and on point, with sweet undertones and names that were so basic… there is something really cute about it, but you are reminded after that it really did take someone who was mentally ill to approach work with such purity.”

Man man enjoys a bath. Picture: Naomi Seow

Man man enjoys a bath. Picture: Naomi Seow

Wo’s latest offerings revolve around a fascination for her older sister, Yi-Wen, who has Down’s syndrome. “I’m generally attracted to many things, but recently I’ve been especially drawn to the ideas of innocence and sexuality, from the perspective of a young adult woman who is born with Down’s syndrome,” Wo says as she takes another painting, Little crack turns pink, from its bubble wrap. “I am imagining how it is like to be somebody with a unique situation that is not considered by the public as much.This sweet, secret sexual life that only lives itself through imagination and innocent metaphors, quietly sitting at the pit of social interest, yet doesn’t seem to mind either… or perhaps, simply the lack of a chance to even realize the difference.”

“The grid thing that you see was a format that really worked for what Martin was doing,” she explains, as we sit back down to admire her work. “My imitation of the lines and the similar colours is more than simply a nod to her legacy. As abstract as they might initially appear to be, these are solid paintings.”

Picture: Naomi Seow

Picture: Naomi Seow

I stop in front of a couple of paintings that were hidden in a corner and ask about her usage of minimalism. “It is not just a statement of aesthetic, but it is a result of the pursuit of purity.

Picture: Naomi Seow

Picture: Naomi Seow

“I think there is a lot more to be said about the act of painting itself as a medium of thought ,” Wo pauses for a moment. “Instead of it trying to fit into the common perception of it being simply one of the many forms of execution.

“I’m trying to show a standard means of expression, and making it neutral in that nothing much can be said about the choice of medium, style or subject matter,” she turns to open the door as we leave. “I want it to be emotional instead of making some sort of statement. The work itself should trigger the gut feeling within the viewer instead of making it extremely obvious.”

For more information on Yi-Ling, her work and past exhibitions, visit:


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