Marlborough Fine Art presents Edge, an exhibition of new paintings and sculpture by Maggi Hambling, who is widely regarded as one of Britain’s most significant and controversial artists.
The expo follows Maggi Hambling – Touch: works on paper, a retrospective at the British Museum. The UK artist has exhibited with Marlborough for 20 years and this is her eighth solo exhibition with the gallery.
Born in Sudbury, Suffolk, Hambling studied first locally at Cedric Morris’ and Lett Haines’ East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing, before going to the Ipswich (1962-64), Camberwell (1964-67) and Slade (1967-69) Schools of Art. In 1980, she was invited to be the first artist in a new programme launched by the then Director of the National Gallery, Michael Levey, to have a contemporary artist in residence in the gallery.
In 1981, Hambling saw Max Wall in his own one-man show ‘Aspects of Max Wall’, and was so moving that she asked to do his portrait. After two years, there were 15 paintings and 23 studies that were exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in 1983.
Hambling’s work on the portrait of Max Wall has come to exemplify her approach to a chosen theme or project.
Following the award of the Jerwood Prize for Painting (jointly with Patrick Caulfield) in 1995, she was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery to create a memorial to Oscar Wilde. The resulting exhibition at that Gallery in 1997 encompassed eight paintings, eight maquettes, nine working drawings, the full-size (reclining) memorial sculpture, and 15 further drawings around the subject.
In 2003 she installed the large, upright Scallop sculpture (over 4 square metres) on Aldeburgh beach, to commemorate the composer Benjamin Britten’s life in the town. The sculpture captures the sounds of the sea for passing visitors, which Britten himself had so effectively depicted in music in his opera ‘Peter Grimes’.
Hambling followed this up in 2013 with a painted opus on Britten’s ‘War Requiem’, including 34 small canvasses of ‘Victims’, 16 of ‘Battlefields’, and a miscellany of related paintings and drawings on the theme of war.
Her opus was published in a full-colour book, written with the art historian James Cahill, ‘War Requiem & Aftermath’ (Unicorn Press, 2015). She has had numerous solo exhibitions since 1980. Apart from those at the National Gallery (1981 & 2014) and the National Portrait Gallery (1983 & 2009), others have included The Yale Center for British Art, New Haven (1981), the Yorkshire Sculpture park (1997), Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal (2007), The Lowry, Salford (2009) and Winchester Cathedral (2013).
British iconic actor and writer Stephen Fry once said “Maggi Hambling belongs to no school but the universal, and to no trend but the individual and authentic.”
Hambling met Fry in 1993 and asked him to sit for her. In all, she made three oil paintings from life, a number of oil sketches and about two dozen drawings. During breaks they often discussed Oscar Wilde, though it was some years later that Hambling made a bronze memorial sculpture of Wilde, on Adelaide Street near Trafalgar Square, and Fry played him in the film Wilde (1997).
Hambling’s works offer a counterweight to the careful irony and self-conscious allusion of much contemporary art, demanding a direct and unmediated encounter with the viewer. These new works succeed in convincing us that we are present at, and indeed become part of, their making. We are “on the edge”, confronted by the fragility of existence, both ours and that of the planet.
The artist has never been afraid of addressing big themes and delivers simultaneous presence of life and death in her work. In this new series, polar icecaps melt, a trafficker drifts, Aleppo and its inhabitants fall, ghosts hover and Hamlet questions. Human vulnerability is expressed continually – and viscerally. We are not asked so much about what we think, but rather about how we feel.
Maggi Hambling: Edge at Marlborough Fine Art, 2 March – 13 April 2017
Address: Marlborough Fine Art, 6 Albemarle Street, London W1S 4BY