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Maggie Hambling No 2 Suffolk 2018 © Juergen Teller All rights reserved

Maggie Hambling No 2 Suffolk 2018. © Juergen Teller. All rights reserved.

Maggi Hambling’s The Quick & the Dead

One of the most popular paintings in the Jerwood Gallery is Maggi Hambling’s Portrait of Frances Rose; when it is not on display, it is often enquired after. And our very own Erica Smith won the Jerwood short story prize with an imagined fictional account of Frances Rose’s life. HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths went along to the Jerwood to see Hambling’s exhibition, The Quick & the Dead. 

Maggi Hambling Self-portrait oil on canvas 2017

Maggi Hambling: Self-portrait. Oil on canvas 2017.

The artist stands firmly rooted in the middle of the gallery, fingers twitching for a cigarette, and her gimlet gaze does not miss anything. She is 73 and works non stop. She gets up at five in the morning, has a cigarette and gets down to work. Like many artists and writers, if she doesn’t work every day she feels out of sorts.

The Quick & the Dead is a testament to artistic friendship; an exploration of portraiture and self-portraits between five artist friends: Maggi Hambling, Sebastian Horsley, Sarah Lucas, Julian Simmons and Juergen Teller. They have participated in the exhibition by contributing portraits and self-portraits. Except Sebastian Horsley – who is the ‘Dead’ of the title. The grouping dates back to 2004, when Horsley introduced Hambling to Sarah Lucas at The Colony Club and they became firm friends – bonded by a shared birthday.

Maggi Hambling Portrait of the artist Sarah Lucas 2 oil on canvas 2013

Maggi Hambling: Portrait of the Artist Sarah Lucas 2. Oil on canvas 2013.

I’ve never been sure about Maggi Hambling’s works, finding them sometimes heavily painted, lumpy, where the subjects can be bogged down in paint, although I can see that the clumps of oil paint animate the subject and are integral to its character. However, these images are very different. In some there is a vibrancy to her work, a freedom in it.

Hambling paints from life as well as memory. Her portrait of Lucas, a painting from life, is a reflective, sensitive image. The one of Lucas’ studio, featuring a jumble of artefacts characteristic of her art, is painted from imagination. Horsley, who died in 2010 at the age of 47, is drawn from memory. He called her ‘Mother’ and she called him ‘her wicked son’. A man who lived his life as a dandy is imagined in one portrait naked with one shoe on, “because a dandy never takes all his clothes off”.

Maggi Hambling Juergen photographing me charcoal 2018

Maggi Hambling: Juergen photographing me. Charcoal 2018.

The Teller portraits are quickly drawn, in the moment. She explains she started the set of four slowly as she explored and concentrated on catching the essence of his face and spirit. The drawing became quicker and by the fourth – which is of him taking a photo of her – it is executed in a whirl of lines. She comments: “When you have a muse the painting makes itself,” adding, “A portrait is made with the eye, the hand and the heart. And the most important is the heart.”

In the gallery opposite is a larger than life portrait of her taken by Teller. It is the first picture ever taken of her working. The picture is very pixelated, giving it a painterly quality. Not surprising, when one learns that it is taken with a smart phone and has been greatly enlarged. It is huge. In the image the easel takes up a good proportion of the space, her eagle eye peers around it, cigarette in hand, completely concentrated on Teller. It says a lot about both Hambling and Teller: it is what a portrait should be.

It is interesting that both Hambling and Teller thought of each other as terrifying before they became friends and worked together. When someone asked Teller to define Hambling in a few words, he described her as: “Intimidating. Shy. Very sweet.”  A portrait in words.

The Quick & the Dead is on until 6 January 2019 at the Jerwood Gallery, Rock-a-Nore Road, Hastings, TN34 3DW. Opening times: Tuesday-Sunday, 11am-5pm.

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Posted 10:42 Wednesday, Oct 31, 2018 In: Visual Arts

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