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Meet Maggi Hambling: a controversial British artist

Self-Portrait, Smiling, 2018 inspired by Maggi Hambling

What happens when you visit a commercial gallery in London? Well, at some of them, you have to ring a bell to be let in, after that simply nobody pays attention to you as all the assistants are too busy even to smile, they just give a quick ‘hi’ without moving their eyes from the screen. I imagine for the professionals the process of selling art is like the stock markets shown in movies – stressful, tense and rapid. Telephone rings, keyboards beep, though there is only me for a gallery visit. Truth be told, yesterday I visited five different galleries almost in the same London area, close to Royal Academy of Arts, and this is what I felt. However, I will definitely continue to explore small galleries – there is always new experience hidden.

Marlborough Fine Art gallery has history since 1946 and by 1952 was known to be selling masterpieces from the late 19thcentury, including paintings by Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, bronzes by Edgar Degas, and drawings by Vincent van Gogh. Later names like Francis Bacon, Henry Moore, Jackson Pollock, Frank Auerbach, Rene Magritte, Stephen Conroy, Paula Rego joined the gallery artists list.

Despite several ongoing exhibitions, my eyes were drawn to Maggi Hambling’s (b. 1945) New Portraits. Partly because of my latest seen exhibition featuring the works by Stuart Pearson Wright (portraits are fundamental part of both artists’ practice, both graduate from Slade School of Fine Art), partly because of eclectic expressionist style. Faces distorted like in Francis Bacon’s works, suggesting that Maggi was strongly influenced by him. Apparently, the muse of Maggi Hambling was a sitter of Francis Bacon.

Colours chosen to represent emotions in the portraits vary from grey/blue, light brown/light grey, pink/grey/light brown to vivid read/grey for angry, gloomy faces, pink – for blushing; cloud blue shows confusion. Topics are not only taken from the domestic environment (many self-portraits solely reflect mood of the day or habits), but also feature global interest in celebrities or politics. Among the exhibited portraits, it is easy to recognise Trump, no need to check the title of the painting. However, to be honest with you, Greta Garbo wouldn’t appear in my mind in thousands of years…

The beginning of portraiture as the artist recalls herself is Rosie The Rhino. It was derived from a series of drawings exhibited in the artist’s retrospective of works at the British Museum. It couldn’t escape my sight while I was searching for interesting facts about the artist. This artwork opens a peculiar point in Maggi’s practice. The artist tries to capture the boundaries between states. This means that she likes to link the bridge between living and dead. The rhino there is just a stuffed animal, though it feels that it looks straight to your eyes as if it is at present. More than that, the artist tends to draw her relatives in death bed and/or dead. Though, she feels that the painter is lucky to have a privilege to grieve in memorable way – a person will be alive in her portrait.

Opinions and reviews for her work are so dividing that titles for her range from “artist without having a soul, a brain or a good eye” (the question whether you have to judge the work by an artist depending on he/his personality requires completely separate discussion) , to CBE and “the first artist in Residence at the National Gallery”, with works held in many public collections, including the British Museum, Tate Collection, National Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum, and others. But it looks that none of it matters to the artist. She just enjoys working and creates what she wants.

See more:

- artist's website

- see New Portraits

- another exhibition: the Quick and the Dead at the Jerwood Gallery, Hastings (20 Oct 2018 - 6 Jan 2018)

- watch video

- interview (Guardian, 2017)

'new portraits'

Marlborough Fine Art

6 Albemarle Street, London, W1S 4BY

until 30 Nov 2018

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© chierkute