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Maggi Hambling creates new show about life on the edge

PUBLISHED: 17:40 09 March 2017 | UPDATED: 17:40 09 March 2017

Maggi Hambling in her Suffolk studio 2017

Maggi Hambling in her Suffolk studio 2017

Luke Walker

East Anglian art icon Maggi Hambling is famed for her sea paintings which capture the tumultuous moment when the rolling waves of the North Sea rise up and crash against our ancient coastline.

Aleppo 1: Maggi Hambling; Edge exhibition at Marlborough Fine ArtAleppo 1: Maggi Hambling; Edge exhibition at Marlborough Fine Art

This timeless event has inspired works large and small, in paint and in bronze for more than a decade but Maggi’s latest London exhibition at Marlborough Fine Art is more concerned with the here and now rather than the ever-present power of the sea.

The exhibition called Edge is Maggi’s response to the concerns of our age: the refugee crisis, the battle for Aleppo, global warming and a series of semi-self portraits.

As we view the collection of new work in her north Suffolk studio Maggi explains the title of her latest show. “It is called Edge because I feel we are ‘on the edge’. There is a fragility to our existence – both ours and the planet and these works attempt to address that and strike up a dialogue with whoever is looking at them.”

The works are framed with a black border or a black edge which provides a sense of cohesion to the series. These are big works which stand taller than the viewer and it is easy for you to feel immersed in them. They are packed with incident and detail and emotion. The demand your attention. The more you look at them, study them, the more you see.

Maggi Hambling in her Suffolk studio 2017Maggi Hambling in her Suffolk studio 2017

In the Aleppo paintings in the swirl of painted chaos you can make out people caught in an explosive swirl of paint and the half obscured remains of buildings.

One of the most effecting paintings is a vast seascape entitled 2016. At first glance it looks like a satellite image of a blue ocean with crisp white tops to the small waves. Look more closely and you are aware that just beneath surface of the water there is the unmistakable shape of a small boat. Within the confine of the boat the water is more disturbed as dark shapes thrash about fighting to escape what is now clearly a sinking ship. Maggi has captured that moment when the overloaded craft, swamped with water, is hanging just below the surface before it is dragged down to the depths.

The portraits section was developed over a period of time as a number of works changed and metamorphosed during their creation.

“People have always told me that I either look like Beethoven or remind them of Beethoven because of the curly hair, intense eyes and the general bad temper – but I’m not deaf yet – but there were no photographs to refer to just some terrible old Victorian portraits, so I have produced my portrait of Beethoven. Next to it is Hamlet which I have shown as Everyman because most of us are in a muddle for most of the time. This is my impression of him and it is completely ambiguous whether we are looking at him from the front or at the back of his head. It is a painting of his indecision, his conflict, he doesn’t know whether he’s coming or going.”

Hangover: Maggi Hambling; Edge exhibition at Marlborough Fine ArtHangover: Maggi Hambling; Edge exhibition at Marlborough Fine Art

As you look at the swirl of confusion surrounding Hamlet’s head you can see faces, masks and skulls contained within the brush strokes. It’s a portrait of a state-of-mind.

“I would want to encourage people to look at these paintings for more than two seconds. I really like the way people can find other images within the work. The portrait Ghost started off as a portrait of Beethoven, then it began to look like my mother but eventually evolved into me.”

This sense of evolution is a common factor in her work. A portrait of Leonard Cohen started off as painting of the sound of Leonard Cohen’s voice. “As with Amy Winehouse, you know I have a tendency to do something about someone who has died. I was very moved by Leonard Cohen, like millions of others, and for a long while I was just trying to paint his voice and eventually it resolved itself more clearly as a portrait. It was supposed to be a portrait of his sound, his voice, his intensity – a portrait of something that is intangible.”

Clearly there are links to Maggi’s vibrant laughter paintings from the 1980s which had titles like Champagne Laugh.

2016: Maggi Hambling; Edge exhibition at Marlborough Fine Art2016: Maggi Hambling; Edge exhibition at Marlborough Fine Art

The third element of the show concentrates on images of melting ice caps and glaciers as a result of global warming. Maggi has used a lot of gold in the colour scheme of the paintings which hark back to the Renaissance use of gold to indicate God but now gold is a reference to greed and the shine of gold is clearly present in Maggi’s paintings of the melting ice caps.

Water falls from sagging glaciers into a bottomless pit. A golden sparkle glistens on the ice cap if it a reflection of the sun or a comment on the role of big business in the destruction of our planet? Maggi leaves you to make your own interpretations. “They are quite angry pictures. A casual glance may lead you to think that this exhibition is made up of three different subjects but actually they are all about the same thing – uncertainty. We are living in uncertain times. We are living on the edge.”

Maggi Hambling: Edge is at Marlborough Fine Art, Albemarle Street, London until April 13.

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