The National Gallery presents Maggi Hambling, with a new series of dramatic paintings, Hambling was the first National Gallery Artist in Residence from 1980 to 1981, the artist has established a reputation over the last four decades as one of Britain’s most significant and controversial painters and sculptors. This autumn she returns to exhibit in Trafalgar Square for the first time in almost 35 years with a brand new series of paintings – ‘Walls of Water’ – which have never been seen in public before.
Occupying Room 1, Hambling’s eight works are vast, intense and energetic, measuring over six by seven feet, Hambling’s series of ‘Wall of Water’ paintings began in 2010; there is also a ninth smaller canvas that was produced in response to the death of Amy Winehouse in 2011. All the works have their origins in the artist’s experience of gigantic waves crashing onto the sea wall at Southwold – Suffolk being the county where the artist was born, still lives – and which has often inspired her work.
The exuberant colours in the works are in abrupt contrast with the stark blacks and whites of a related group of monotypes, the artist states: “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.”
The waves are poised between animation and disintegration, and signify the cycle of life and death: ghosts of people and animals appear and disappear within them. Hambling has spoken of her admiration for artists as diverse as Constable and Cy Twombly; yet avoids explicit references.
Maggi Hambling is represented in all major British collections, from the British Museum to Tate. Her sculpture ‘Scallop’ (2003) is permanently sited on the beach at Aldeburgh, Suffolk, as a monument to composer Benjamin Britten. ‘A Conversation with Oscar Wilde’ (1998) can be found in Adelaide Street, near Trafalgar Square.
In 2013 the artist was the subject of a solo presentation at the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg; and her acclaimed series of North Sea Paintings, begun in 2002, was most recently seen in ‘Maggi Hambling: The Wave’ at the Fitzwilliam, Cambridge (2010).
These new paintings by Maggi Hambling offer visitors a contemporary parallel to the seascapes by Norwegian artist Peder Balke concurrently displayed nearby in the Sunley Room. The works complement the National Gallery’s exhibition on the Norwegian artist, who was one of the most original painters of 19th-century Scandinavia. The artist was largely forgotten for more than a century, but Balke is now being rediscovered and recognised as extraordinarily prescient of later expressionism.
Maggi Hambling Walls of Water – The National Gallery – until 15 February 2015