As a young inexperienced graduate architect, one of my first projects was to create an artist’s studio near the east entrance of the National Gallery in London. Now demolished, the first artist in residence was Maggi Hambling in 1980. At that time her focus seemed to be on portraits with a focus on warders during her residency at the National and a memorable exhibition of portraits of the comedian Max Wall in 1981 in the National Portrait Gallery, which caught the colour and vitality of his unique personality. Her portraits moved into sculpture with her stunning celebration of Oscar Wilde at Charing Cross in London and Scallop, a 4-metre-high steel sculpture on Aldeburgh beach dedicated to the composer Benjamin Britten.
Last year, she returned to the National Gallery with her exhibition “Walls of Water” where, with her same free-flowing brushstrokes, she enabled the viewer to experience the sea as it moved, tumbled, returned and cascaded with enormous energy. The exhibition comprised eight large canvases around the walls of the gallery with another ninth and smaller canvas produced as a response to the death of Amy Winehouse in 2011.
Hambling said: “The crucial thing that only painting can do is to make you feel as if you’re there while it’s being created – as if it’s happening in front of you.”
Now, not far away at a “must-see” exhibition at King’s College London on the Strand, Maggie has created a new exhibition of work from 1981 to the present day which shows how her work has developed to include painting, sculpture, installation and film.
The high point of the exhibition is a series of new sculptures, entitled Aftermath. These present something new – painted bronzes derived from natural forms found on the beach which have been transformed into works of art, with shapes and colours that at one moment are like coral; at the other sinister human or animal beings. The strength of King’s College is that during the exhibition, Maggi will be working with academics across the College London, including those who work in facial reconstruction and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and have resonance in her work. War Requiem & Aftermath is accompanied by a new book on the artist by the writer James Cahill.
For a really good review of her work, see the article by Joy Lo Dico in the Evening Standard.